Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — Tammy Hoggatt has seen the impact of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease on a family friend.

“Some of the difficulties I saw her go through is the medical professionals didn’t know how to deal with someone with this so young,” she said.

Now, Hoggatt is helping promote a new national awareness day coming up Sept. 14 for early-onset Alzheimer’s.

The awareness day is being promoted by the Texas-based Gayle Wells Foundation for Early Onset Alzheimer’s & Care, founded by Urbana native Laura Sutherland. The foundation provides education, help and resources to early-onset Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

Hoggatt, who works for the Champaign Park District, is a member of the organization’s board.

She said she hopes the awareness day will help build more recognition of the fact that dementia doesn’t just strike the elderly, and will promote more help for younger patients and their families in this area.

“This day is truly about bringing awareness for people to realize just how many people are dealing with this and how complicated this issue gets,” she said.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects people younger than 65, many of them in their 40s and 50s. About 200,000 people in the U.S. have this form of the degenerative brain disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

When someone has Alzheimer’s at a younger age — when people are typically still working and may even have children at home — that comes with its own unique set of challenges, according to Hoggatt.

She recalled a case the foundation dealt with in Houston in which a woman had to take her husband to adult day care while she was at work, “and it was consuming all her money,” Hoggatt said.

Compounding the woman’s financial problems was the loss of her husband’s income, Hoggatt said. Then the woman started having problems with her employer, because she had to drop off and pick up her husband from day care at specific times.

“She didn’t know what to do,” Hoggatt said.

The Gayle Wells Foundation is named for a woman who died of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. Sutherland, a 1982 Urbana High School graduate and also the foundation’s executive director, was Gayle Wells’ close friend and only caregiver.

Because most Alzheimer’s cases affect adults over 65, the younger population is often overlooked, as many programs and services are geared to older patients, Sutherland said.

Not only that, signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s are often first noticed in the workplace — but people lose their jobs and health insurance before they’re diagnosed, she said.

And for those early Alzheimer’s patients who still have children at home, “kids are watching these things happen to Mom and Dad and are picking up some of the caregiver burden,” Sutherland said.

She hopes the awareness day will give those younger Alzheimer’s patients a voice and serve as a reminder that this disease can strike adults from their 30s onward.

Hoggatt said her own mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s disease before she passed away, which also increased her interest in the disease and its impact on both the patients and their caregivers.

“She and her husband were already retired when she got it,” Hoggatt said. “I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been if they were still working age.”

Reporter

Debra Pressey is a reporter covering health care at The News-Gazette. Her email is dpressey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@DLPressey).