Numbers rising in SWFL Alzheimer’s deaths, fundraiser hosted in Fort Myers

Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
FILE – In this Aug. 14, 2018 file photo, Dr. William Burke goes over a PET brain scan at Banner Alzheimers Institute in Phoenix. The drug company Biogen Inc. says it will seek federal approval for a medicine to treat early Alzheimer’s disease, a landmark step toward finding a treatment that can alter the course of the most common form of dementia. The announcement Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, is a surprise because the company earlier this year stopped two studies of the drug, called aducanumab, after partial results suggested it was not working. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

More than half a million people in Florida live with Alzheimer’s disease, and we looked at where it’s a growing issue in the state and specifically in Southwest Florida.

The most recent data from Florida Department of Health shows Charlotte County saw the highest percentage of deaths from Alzheimer’s disease per county with 122 cases in 2018.

The rate for Charlotte County appears to be going down in 2019; however, numbers are climbing in Lee County from 228 deaths in 2017 to 262 in 2018.

“It’s scary, because even if you do what you’re told, the disease is prevalent,” said Andrea Gieryic, whose father lived with Alzheimer’s until his death a year ago. “It was like the biggest shock in the world — total shock for the family members.”

Cardiac arrest ultimately took the life of Gieryic’s dad, but an MRI after his death showed Alzheimer’s disease was developing in his brain. Meanwhile, Gieryic’s father did all that he could to prevent development.

“He was eating well, exercising every day, sleeping,” Gieryic said. “He did crossword puzzles every day. I couldn’t even get them.”

Gieryic’s father also managed to avoid advanced symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease that include not remembering where they are and who their family is.

Dr. Jon Lapook, the chief medical correspondent for CBS News, told us a lot of questions still need to be answered regarding the development of Alzheimer’s disease in patients.

“We really don’t have something that specifically addresses Alzheimer’s and says, ‘You have a propensity to it? Here’s what you do to prevent it,’” Lapook said.

Recent studies show people who avoid trans fats in their diet can cut down the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but a lot more research is needed.

“It’s definitely a health care crisis,” said Kathy Heldman, who works with a local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s Association is hosting a walk fundraiser Saturday at Centennial Park in Fort Myers to increase awareness about the disease. Registration begins at 8 a.m. The walk begins at 9:30 a.m.

All money raised by the event will go toward local Alzheimer’s care and local research for Alzheimer’s.

“We are just relentless about accelerating progress,” Heldman said.

And organizations like the one Heldman is a part of hope patients and families will save money long-term, since the average health needs from diagnosis to death costs families over $340,000. And 70% of that comes out of pocket, according to the Alzheimer’s association.

Research shows genetics, the way people live, and people’s environment may all play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information about the Alzheimer’s Association walk in Fort Myers, contact Heldman at (312) 203-6418 or, or visit the 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer event page.

And this is a main reason why Gieryic is concerned about her future.

“In another 30 years, when I’m his age, hopefully they’ll have something,” Gieryic said. “That’s what I’m walking for is the future generations.”

And Gieryic thinks about her father every day and when she is walking for a purpose.

“I miss him terribly,” Gieryic said.

MORE: 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Naples, Collier County

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