2018, the Susan & Charles Berghoff Foundation formed a medical advisory group
By Cheri Brown
Morgan Hill is home to the Susan & Charles Berghoff Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on a complex and growing public health challenge: dementia.
Dementia is a condition of progressive decline in brain function that robs people of their ability to manage activities of daily living. It affects 55 million souls globally with annual costs estimated at 1.3 trillion dollars, with roughly half of that cost shouldered by unpaid caregivers. The number of people living with dementia is expected to triple by 2050. There is currently no cure for any of the diseases that cause dementia, although some medications and other therapies can help with symptom management.
The foundation’s purpose is to address unmet needs for dementia education, research, and caregiver resources. Their special focus on Lewy body dementia (LBD) was inspired by co-founder, Sue Berghoff, after her diagnosis with this fatal condition in 2017. Based on the current science, Lewy body disease occurs when a protein called alpha-synuclein begins to misfold and form clumps or “Lewy bodies,” which impair brain function and cause brain cells to die. Lewy body disease is the second most common cause of progressive dementia, it is related to Parkinson’s disease, and it is often present in people with Alzheimer’s disease. LBD has wide-ranging symptoms that not only impair a person’s thinking and memory, but also their movement, behavior and autonomic functions.
Americans tend to avoid thinking about or planning ahead for serious life challenges like dementia, but Columbia University researchers have found nearly one in 10 U.S. adults ages 65 and older have dementia, while an additional 22 percent have mild cognitive impairment.
In 2018, the Susan & Charles Berghoff Foundation formed a medical advisory group and began a continuing medical education (CME/CE) program in partnership with Stanford University, Kaiser Permanente, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, El Camino Health and Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department.
In 2019, the Sue Berghoff LBD Research Fellowship Fund was established at Stanford under the guidance of Dr. Kathleen Poston. This fund supports postdoctoral researchers working to identify novel markers of LBD. Biomarkers support improved diagnosis, clinical trials, development of therapies and a cure.
The foundation also conducts community workshops with subject matter experts to increase awareness of dementia and the positive benefits of a “healthy brain lifestyle” to reduce risk of dementia. According to the foundation, lifelong habits that support brain health include proper nutrition, regular exercise, preventive care (dental, vision and hearing, and cognitive screenings), social engagement, good sleep hygiene, lifelong learning, avoidance of substance abuse (smoking and excessive alcohol consumption), and getting treatment for chronic depression.
The City of Morgan Hill proclaimed October as Brain Health & Dementia Awareness Month and recognized the Susan & Charles Berghoff Foundation for its sustained commitment to increased awareness in our community.
The foundation has been invited by the Morgan Hill branch of the AAUW (American Association of University Women) to address this topic in a public event co-hosted by the Santa Clara Library District. Brain Health & Dementia: What Every Family Needs to Know takes place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Morgan Hill Library or attend on ZOOM. Advance registration required. RSVP:at https://bit.ly/46jPXvi.
A side note shared by the foundation. Some conditions may mimic symptoms of dementia. They include urinary tract infections, B-12 deficiency, delirium, and thyroid problems. Doctors observing dementia-like symptoms in an undiagnosed patient will first try to rule out these common and treatable symptoms. It is important to be aware of this, for ourselves and our older friends.
For more information on dementia, Lewy body dementia, and the programs offered by the Susan and Charles Berghoff Foundation, go to www.berghoff-foundation.org or email inquiries to [email protected].
Cheri Brown is a board member of the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce. She writes articles on behalf of the Chamber highlighting a few of the hundreds of Chamber members. She owns her own independent insurance brokerage, selling Medicare insurance policies. She can be reached at [email protected].