If you notice your memory isn’t what it used to be, you may be one of thousands of Kentuckians in the early stages of cognitive decline that could lead to Alzheimer’s.

One in seven people older than 45 could be in the early stages of permanent memory loss and haven’t consulting a physician, according to a recent survey by the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Dr. Gregory Jicha, associate professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky Alzeheimer’s Disease Center, said the typical image of Alzheimer’s is when a person has memory and thinking problems and is no longer able to care for themselves. The person may also have difficulty in communication and other daily activities.

But he said the disease starts much sooner than many people realize.

“Well, what about the people who are heading towards that degree of disability but currently only have mild problems? And our best guess nationally is that’s another six to seven million [people],” he said.

The data shows that 14.1 percent of Kentuckians and 11.5 percent of Indiana residents aged 45 and older report experiencing confusion or memory loss that has happened more often or has gotten worse over the last 12 months.

Teri Shirk,until recently the executive director of Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana,  said figures like that indicate a potential public health crisis to the region.

She said Alheimer’s correlates highly with other health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

“Here in Kentucky unfortunately we rank very high on all of those factors. And if you extrapolate that out we’re probably looking at a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s than the national average,” said Shirk, now the director of chapter operations for the national Alzheimer’s Association.

Of the nearly 61 percent of Kentuckians in the survey who report worsening memory problems and who think they need assistance, only 10.3 percent report getting help.

Shirk said more than 250,000 people in Kentucky consider themselves primary caregivers for somebody with Alzeheimer’s.

“In any one family, one person living with the disease is affecting a lot of people to the point that three other people think that their life is significantly impacted by caring for that person,” Shirk said.

The information was compiled from answers given by Kentucky and Indiana respondents who participated for the first time in the Cognitive Decline Module of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 2012.