With racial tensions having reached a boiling point over the summer, it’s easy to harken back to the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and John Lewis among many others. But one of the most revered is Rosa Parks, the godmother of the movement.
The civil rights icon served as a catalyst for social justice demonstrations when in 1955 she refused to give up her seat for a fellow bus rider, simply because they were white and she was Black. Since that moment, generations thought of her as a surrogate grandmother that stood for what’s right.
Similar to most other grandparents, Rosa Parks passed due to complications with Alzheimer’s disease in 2005. There are still many things about the disease that are unclear but here’s what we know:
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Overall Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of US dementia cases.
Despite what most might think, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of getting older. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect the elderly. More than 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s).
Perhaps the saddest aspect of Alzheimer’s is that it gets worse over time, no matter what. As Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, in its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
On a brighter note, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.
Although researchers believe there is not a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease, they have extensive information around which risk factors are stronger links than others.