Merlene Davis: Symposium highlights 'models of graceful aging,' dementia in women

Kathryn Stephens

The older I get, the more I have moments when my brain simply shuts down. I can't remember why I entered a room or the name of someone I've known for years.

My first fear is that dementia is creeping in. That's what happens to old people if they live long enough, isn't it?

Well, it could be.

But the fourth annual Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia offers two days of conferences that are meant to show how far research has come in exploring the spectrum of Alzheimer's disease, as well as to highlight seniors who are older than 80 and remain quite productive in our community.

In other words, as we age, forgetfulness could just be forgetfulness. I've grown more comfortable with that scenario after talking with others my age who are in the same boat.

But each of us can point to someone who has Alzheimer's disease. The thought of losing our mental faculties to that extent, of relying heavily on family members and other caregivers, is quite worrisome.

That's why the Markesbery symposium is so important.

Its first day, Nov. 21, is specifically for scientists and researchers, professors and doctors. Speakers will detail clinical trials and findings, and a panel will update research conducted at the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

While the sessions are geared to those studying dementia and aging, everyone is welcome. The general public will be in the minority, however, said Laura C. Dawa hare of the UK public relations department.

But on Nov. 22, the symposium will be more community friendly.

Roberta Diaz Brinton, a University of Southern California professor, will discuss decades of work in the area of female aging. Her work focuses on trying to find that one aspect that causes some 68 percent of Alzheimer's patients to be women.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. Of that number, 67,000 are Kentuckians. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

On the bright side, however, one in nine people older than 65 has Alzheimer's. That means eight people don't.

About one-third of people 85 and older have the disease, meaning two-thirds don't.

To drive home that point, the symposium is hosting a luncheon Nov. 22 highlighting eight seniors, 80 and older, who are quite busy and full of life. Also, three centenarians will be recognized for their active lifestyles.

The eight William Markesbery Senior Stars are author, playwright and director Elexene M. Cox, 93, of Nicholasville; Kentucky State University choral director Carl Smith, 82 of Frankfort; Mary Jo Holland, 81, of Lexington, dancer and co-founder of The Energizers dance group; race car driver and businessman Willard Kinzer, 86, and his wife, Lucy, 85, of Prestonsburg; registered nurse and UK Hospital volunteer Bettye Arvin, 84, of Lexington; Sanders-Brown receptionist Jessie Weaver, 86, of Lexington; and author and Pilgrim Baptist Church musician Kathryn Stephens, 80, of Lexington.

The three David Wekstein Centenarians are Elizabeth Davies, 103, of Barbourville; and Dr. Robert Lam, 101, and Chester Wilson, 100, both of Lexington.

The 11 seniors will be honored as "role models for graceful aging." The luncheon is $25. Everything else is free.

Sounds like we all need to remember to go to this event.

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