BILLINGS - According to the Alzheimer's Association, there was a lot of progress made toward combating the disease in 2023, including getting close to a fourth medication.
Other discoveries include the correlation between Alzheimer's and hearing loss, the development of a simple blood test to detect Alzheimer's, and understanding the importance of a healthy diet in prevention.
These new findings offer many families around Montana hope as nearly 10 percent of the state's adults aged 65 and older suffer from the disease. Oftentimes, the diagnosis is challenging for the entire family.
"It's really surprising how quickly things can change," said Nathan Thompson, whose mom is living with Alzheimer's. "The scary part was just knowing what was ahead for that."
Thompson said the changes happened quickly for his mom, who began showing symptoms about 10 years ago and were difficult for him and his siblings to understand.
“Just knowing that this person that I’ve always been able to talk things through with, this person that’s just been stable in my life, suddenly doesn’t have this ability to navigate things anymore,” Thompson said. "That was really hard for all of us."
Thompson's mother lived with him for a few years but now lives at Highgate Senior Care Facility in Billings. They were forced to move her there when she started forgetting to take her diabetes medicine.
"It seems like she can stay at a certain level for a long period of time and then within a couple of months, there's been a significant deterioration," Thompson said.
Thompson's sister, Melanie Williams, sees the disease in two different ways. First, as the daughter of someone affected, but secondly, as the Alzheimer's Association Montana Chapter Program Director.
"I tell people, 'You go through the grief cycle over and over and over,'" Williams said. "It never really goes away because it's almost like you are meeting a new mom every time something changes."
Williams said the new discoveries and findings of 2023 give her hope.
"We're not just prescribing medications for the symptoms," Williams said. "We're actually seeing drugs that are FDA approved to actually stop the disease where it's at. There's a lot that we are learning right now and it's an exciting time."
Those discoveries can help patients receive better treatment quicker, as well as have a better chance at enjoying a higher quality of life. All exciting changes that Williams hopes could have a huge impact on families just like hers.
"It's life-changing, it really is," Williams said. "It brings so much hope to this disease that no one should have to end their life with."