One of the most frightening things I can imagine is looking my loved ones in the eyes and not knowing who they are. For too many South Dakotans, Alzheimer’s disease has turned that kind of fear into a reality. This degenerative disease causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, and it impacts 19,000 South Dakota seniors.

Recently, I was in Watertown to participate in the Alzheimer’s Walk, and was humbled to be an honorary chairperson. Being a part of this event and visiting with those with Alzheimer’s as well as caregivers was eye opening and heart wrenching. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in America, and it cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

But this doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. While research is ongoing, the rest of us can help by increasing awareness about Alzheimer’s and providing support to caregivers. For example, funds raised by the walk in Watertown are split evenly between national Alzheimer’s research and support of local programs such as a Respite Scholarship Program, which helps caregivers get a break from the emotional stress of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.

One thing I’ve heard often from those in the Alzheimer’s community is that too few understand the challenges that people with the disease face every day. We can help change that. September is World Alzheimer's Month, and I want to encourage all South Dakotans to take a moment and think about this disease and how they can share love with someone with it or someone impacted by it.

Rep. Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s lone U.S. Representative, elected in November 2010. She serves on the Agriculture, Education and Workforce and Natural Resources Committees.

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