WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Six million people are diagnosed nationally with nearly 600,000 just in the state of Florida. Alzheimer's has gripped our society faster in recent years prompting more attention and research, especially for one West Palm Beach woman.
Sue Roland moves toward a gym every morning. For two hours at Crunch Fitness in Greenacres, she grips the reality of her world and adds more weight to her mindset.
"It's become such a habit that it's unpleasant not to do it," said Roland.
At 61-year-old, she never thought she would be in the best shape of her life. Especially when you consider four years ago she walked into a gym for the first time.
"When I look in the mirror, I feel strong," she said. I look strong to me, and I feel like I'm encouraging other people to say, 'I don't have to go that route.'"
Her physical toughness shows on the outside but inside it's her mental toughness that powers her motivation. She flexes to add days to her life after watching one of the closest people to her slowly lose her life.
"You see this slow progression and they're aware of it," said Roland.
In October of 2017, Roland's mother passed away from a lengthy and emotional battle with Alzheimer's. It left her devastated as her mom looked in her eyes during those final days and didn't even recognize her.
"She had all the signs of dementia, but we didn't recognize them until close to the end," said Roland.
In fact, most don't realize it, but we are surrounded by a disease that's quietly and slowly manifested into our society.
"This is an epidemic; this is of a proportional level that we need to really address it because it's not going to go away," said Keith Gibson, Director of Programs for the Alzheimer's Association.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, in our five-county viewing area, nearly 80,000 people have been diagnosed. Research and clinical trials have proven, among other activities, that 20-30 minutes of exercise a day can slow the migration of dementia.
"When you break that sweat, believe it or not, you are replenishing your neurons your brain cells," said Gibson.
He has singlehandedly tried to become a student of the disease trying to learn as much as possible to give back critical information to the public.
"We're attacking it from research, public policy development," he said. "We're like boots on the ground. Until we find that cure, we are there to offer services to our caregivers and the persons who are living with the disease because it's so important to give them that hope and help them understand that you know what, even though you may have a diagnosis, it's not a death sentence," said Gibson.
Research from the association has proven four areas can mitigate the progression of dementia. Physical health and exercise, diet and nutrition, cognitive activity, and social engagement can all help slow its progress.
"We don't want to take their independence away from them, but we want to show them how they can manage their disease and have a high quality of life," said Gibson.
Get accessed. That is the best proactive measure people can take to begin the next step if there are signs of dementia present.
No one believes that more than this bodybuilder who knows every bench press, bicep curl and lateral pull is an insurance policy for another day.
Sue Roland's routine, as methodical and contagious as it is, comes from a health lesson taught, not in a doctor's office, but during a painful journey in 2017.
"We don't necessarily have power of how we die, but we can sure have our quality of life as long as possible," said Roland.
Strengthening her muscles and her mind each day knowing that door she walked through years ago changed her life in ways she never could have imagined.
"I don't want to go gently into the good night, I want to have a good life as long as possible," Roland added.
November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month and WPTV has been a sponsor of several walks to end Alzheimer's. Visit alz.org to learn and share the facts about Alzheimer's disease.