Nearly 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia – a number that is expected to rise to more than 15 million over the next three decades as the population ages.


Behind the scenes, however, are more than 16 million family members, friends and other loved ones who provide unpaid care – more than 18 billion hours of it in 2019 alone.


The stress and burden of that care takes a toll on caregivers. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 40 percent of family caregivers report that the emotional stress related to their role is high or very high. And more than one in six caregivers have had to quit work entirely due to their responsibilities.


“Caregivers are really the unsung heroes in the fight against Alzheimer’s,” says Leanne Burnett, M.D., a board certified neurologist who specializes in treating patients with dementia and other neurological disorders at Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital. “Since November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, it’s important that we recognize that being a caregiver is often a thankless task, and the challenges just get tougher as the disease progresses. There are so many people here in the Bay Area and surrounding communities who are struggling with this.”


To help, Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital has created an Alzheimer’s support group that meets every two months, giving caregivers a chance to hear from experts across a broad range of topics and gain insights into how they can manage the responsibility of a loved one with dementia.


The group’s kickoff meeting was in September. The event included a 20-minute presentation from Burnett and a detailed question-and-answer session. Burnett also gave a one hour lecture on the various types of dementia on October 8, 2019 that was attended by almost 100 people.


Future meetings will focus on accessing local services for both patients and caregivers; legal issues surrounding dementia care; an overview of memory care units and other options for care; and much more.


“There is a very real need out in the community for education and support,” says Burnett. “After our first meeting, we received an outpouring of appreciation from those in attendance. It was validation that this is a valuable service.”


In fact, interest has been so high that the group has already outgrown the hospital’s meeting space. Beginning Nov. 12, the support group will meet at the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 18220 Upper Bay Road.


“The support group’s direction is a work in progress,” says Burnett. “We continue to solicit feedback from participants, and we’ll proceed with the topics that people feel are most beneficial.”


Is it possible to avoid Alzheimer’s?


Despite billions of dollars in investment, medical researchers have yet to develop medications that can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But Burnett says studies show that individuals can reduce their risk of dementia, or slow its progress, by:


  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Following the MIND diet – a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet – which includes lots of green, leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, beans, fish and poultry
  • Exercising regularly
  • Engaging in intellectually and socially stimulating activities
  • Avoiding tobacco products


“These lifestyle factors are even more effective for people who have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia,” says Burnett. “And while doing all of them is obviously best, there are benefits even if you follow one or two.”


To register for the November session, or to learn more, please call 832.783.1809 or email Cindy Zapata, Burnett’s office manager, at To make an appointment with Burnett, call 832.783.1999.