Oklahoma Masons have raised $500,000 to help rural residents deal with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The money will help establish satellite offices of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in Lawton, Enid and McAlester.
“As families shoulder the tremendous emotional, physical and financial toll of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s day after day, year after year, they are anxiously awaiting for services to be offered as close to them as possible,” said Mark Fried, the state Alzheimer’s Association president.
“This, too, has been the Alzheimer’s Association’s dream, to be able to cover the entire state with services.”
Ron Chambers, a Masonic official from Broken Arrow, lost his wife to Alzheimer’s and said he supports all efforts to confront and defeat the disease. All Alzheimer’s Association services are free to the public.
Dementia is the second-largest contributor to death among older Americans, second only to heart failure. Alzheimer’s and dementia kill about 1,100 Oklahomans every year, according to the latest data.
In Oklahoma, 60,000 people live with Alzheimer’s disease. That figure is projected to be 76,000 by 2025.
Some 200,000 Oklahomans provide care for Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
“I spend a lot of time in areas of the state and I meet a lot of great people. It’s extremely rare for me to meet someone who does not share a story about their experience with Alzheimer’s,” Fried said.
“When it comes to support programs and services, the rapid escalation of the Alzheimer’s epidemic is beyond what any one organization can reasonably expect to do on its own. We will be constantly looking for opportunities to collaborate with local agencies while diligently recruiting passionate, skilled volunteers that can further our cause.”
While Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, the risk for developing the disease increases as people grow older. This places a spotlight on the baby boomer generation, said Fried.
Baby boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day. One in nine Americans over the age of 65 has dementia or Alzheimer’s. Half of people over age 85 have the disease. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease.
“Thanks to the Masonic Charitable Foundation, we are going to be able to accelerate our outreach in Oklahoma. Were it not for their very generous gift, we would be looking at years, not months, before we could have offices in Lawton, Enid and McAlester,” Fried said.
The Alzheimer’s Association says the disease is the most expensive condition in the nation, expected to cost Medicare and Medicaid an estimated $150 billion this year. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.
Staff members in the offices in Enid, Lawton and McAlester, scheduled to open this year, will focus their efforts on education and services available through the Alzheimer's Association. The association offers services to family caregivers and people in the early stages of the disease, including family care consultations, support groups, a lending library, caregiver classes and workshops.
Satellite offices were needed because more than a third of Oklahoma's population lives outside the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas, and resources in rural areas are limited.
There are 23,000 members of the Masonic fraternity in Oklahoma in 223 lodges. Members are from a wide range of ages and occupations and have a special interest in helping senior citizens.
“Our impression is that younger men are starting to seek the fraternity, not necessarily because their fathers were members, but because of their grandfathers,” said Masonic spokesman Jim Tresner.
A legacy of care
In 2007, the Masons awarded a grant to the Oklahoma Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said John L. Logan, executive director of the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma. A grant has been made every year since. The cumulative amount of funds made available to the agencies is $4.9 million.
In 2009, a $1 million gift was made to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s Alzheimer’s disease research laboratory.
Masonic funds were used to buy three six-passenger shuttles to assist patients from parking areas to the Veterans Administration Hospital for treatment. The investment in shuttles was $30,000. Last year, Masons provided a $50,000 grant to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs for a mobile outreach office equipped with satellite access to VA records.