CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A recent report found that one in three seniors in the United States dies with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
The sobering statistics help highlight what is now the sixth leading cause of death in this country, and what is becoming a challenge for more and more West Virginians.
Among them is Letha Goode, 65, of South Charleston. She's the primary caregiver for her husband, Steve, 64, who was diagnosed with the neurological disease more than two years ago.
"I noticed symptoms before that point, but I didn't really know what it was. I expressed to my family physician that I suspected something was going on.
"The doctor said, 'What are you going to do if he does have it?' I said, 'Isn't there medicine to slow it?' He said, 'No medication out there works,' " Letha said.
"But I took him to Morgantown to be tested, and I told that doctor what he said. The doctor said it's true and the drugs are expensive and only work for a very few people. But he asked me, 'How can you not try them? You don't know if your loved one is going to be one of the ones they help.' So he's on two different medications that are supposed to work together."
"I really can't say if they're helping . . . It seems like he's progressing pretty quickly," she said.
Letha, who continues to work while caring for Steve, said he is at the point where "he can't really do anything." He can feed himself and use the restroom if he's told. He'll watch TV if Letha turns it on for him. He isn't steady on his feet. His motor skills are regressing.
"I have to have someone come in during the day while I'm trying to keep my job so I can keep insurance. He isn't old enough for Medicare," she said.
Her day starts with waking him, fixing his breakfast and giving him a shower before preparing herself for her long day of work ahead.
"It's one of the most difficult and trying things I've ever experienced. It's so sad to just look in his eyes and see the emptiness," she said. "You can actually see. People have said, you look in his eyes and there's nothing there."
The couple has been together for almost a half-century.
"They don't have a filter for things; they don't show compassion. They don't understand. My mother passed away; my father passed away recently. He had no compassion for me. He couldn't be there for me. After 42 years. And we dated five years before then. There's nothing there," she said.
"They said that sometimes traumatic changes can make it worse. He had two brothers who passed away in one year. One was two years older than him and had a massive heart attack, and he was his last living family member. That pushed him over the edge a little bit. . ." she said.
One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dementia in the United States, according to the Alzheimer's Association 2013 Alzheimer's Disease Facts & Figures.
West Virginia has more than 48,000 people living with Alzheimer's disease, and the number continues to rise.
"West Virginia is about standard for the amount of people living with Alzheimer's disease compared to states with similar demographics to ours, as we have a higher than normal aging population. But as of now, the state falls in the normal range," said Laurel Kirksey, the director of constituent relations for the Alzheimer's Association, West Virginia chapter.