DAYTON — Raymond Selva Potter, a distinguished World War II veteran, loved to talk about his military service.
A member of the U.S. Army, he fought in Europe and Belgium and in 1944 spent time as a prisoner of war. He documented his distinguished military service so that his kids and grandchildren would know what contributions he made to this country.
At 94 years old, Alzheimer’s and dementia have robbed him of those memories. But, his son, Leigh Potter, said he is so glad his dad wrote down his military exploits.
“He could never have told it now,” Leigh said.
As the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease grows nationwide, the disease is expected to grow among veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration estimates that in 2019, about 130,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s dementia among U.S. veterans will occur.
The Miami Valley Alzheimer’s Association is working with the Dayton VA Medical Center and Wright Patterson Air Force Base to help connect veterans with dementia and their families to the educational and support resources the Alzheimer’s Association offers. As part of the Alzheimer’s Association Military Task Force, the Alzheimer’s Association is also educating doctors about how to better diagnose Alzheimer’s and teaching outreach workers to make referrals to the association’s free, 24/7 services.
Eric VanVlymen, executive director of the Miami Valley Alzheimer’s Association, said, “One of our main goals is to reach more people, and the other one is timely and accurate diagnosis. People with PTSD have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. You have a lot of people coming back from the war who have traumatic brain issues, a lot of people coming back with dementia-like symptoms.”
Families of veterans who contact the VA for respite care are given information about the Alzheimer’s Association. The association is also trying to work through community veterans’ organizations to reach local vets.
Raymond Potter, who lives in and is treated at the Dayton VA’s Community Living Center, is among an estimated 170,920 VA patients nationwide with Alzheimer’s dementia. Because of the projected growth of the disease, the number of VA patients with Alzheimer’s dementia is expected to grow 27 percent to about 217,000, by 2033, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dr. Gordana Gataric, medical director of the Dayton VA’s CLC, said, “There is a need for these services. There is a great need for long-term care placement, but also respite. Since we are here in the CLC, we see there is a substantial number of veterans with cognitive problems.”
Elizabeth Hall, a nurse practitioner in geriatric service, estimates that about 25 percent of the veterans in the memory unit have had PTSD or TBIs. She also said they are starting to see younger veterans affected.
“We are seeing people in their 50s occasionally, and we are seeing people in their 40s who are having significant cognitive issues,” she said.
Gataric said the VA is starting to put more emphasis on supporting veterans with Alzheimer’s with in-home care options. Many want to stay at home, but that decision, she said, “depends on the stage and where they are in the disease trajectory.” The Alzheimer’s Association can teach caregivers how to better care for their loved ones no matter the stage of the disease.
Leigh Potter, of Atlanta, said his father has been at the VA for about 10 years. He remembers when his father started showing signs of memory loss thinking, “what do we do now? Who can we see about this?”
“There’s power and relief in talking with people who understand Alzheimer’s,” he said. “Just talking with somebody who knows and who understands just makes you feel so helped. Without that, you kind of feel lost.”
People needing information can always call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.