Imagine an entire city full of people unsuccessfully battling an incurable and unforgiving disease. That is the reality of Alzheimer’s in our country. According to data from the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 700,000 people age 65 or older will die with Alzheimer’s this year in the United States alone – this is close to the population of Detroit!
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month. It’s a time to shine a purple light for the millions of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Debilitating and devastating for all involved, Alzheimer’s affects the brain, causing memory loss and motor control loss in the body. A person with this disease will experience brain cells dying, resulting in a decline of memory and ability to function on a daily basis.
Scientists believe that the cause is a combination of genetics, a person’s lifestyle and their environment. Although uncommon (less than 5 percent of the time), some people can develop it through a genetic mutation that will almost always guarantee the disease.
Watch for Warning Signs
If you have just an ounce of suspicion that a loved one’s memory may be slipping, it is important to pay attention to warning signs. Below are the nine most important signs to look for.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. This may include forgetting names or appointments, but then remembering them later when it’s too late.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. An example of this could be handling a problem in a much different way than what is normal to them.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks. When this sign is evident, your loved one may need help using the settings on a microwave or need help remembering which button to push on the remote control.
4. Confusion with time or place. This is a common sign, especially as the disease progresses. They may become confused about the day of the week, but then they figure it out later.
5. New problems with words, speaking or writing. Many have trouble finding the right word or may even mix up thoughts and topics within a sentence.
6. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. They look all around over and over for something they cannot find. When they don’t remember where they have looked, the search begins again in the same places.
7. Decreased or poor judgement. Making a bad decision with something they typically would always make good choices with.
8. Withdrawal from work or social activities. This is very common in that once they feel there is something wrong, they close up and avoid social settings.
9. Changes in mood and personality. Irritability is a very common and noticeable sign. They become more set in their ways and begin to have very set ways of doing things.
The greatest risk factors — age, genes and family history — are beyond our control. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to improve your odds.
A new report published in Alzheimers & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association outlines the latest evidence that certain modifiable risk factors play a role in who’s most likely to develop memory and thinking problems as they age.
While the report concludes that more research is needed on risk reduction, prevention, and brain health, it concludes scientists now know enough to make these two key recommendations:
1. Regular physical activity and management of cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension) have been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and may reduce the risk of dementia
2. A healthy diet and lifelong learning/cognitive training may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
How to Spread Awareness
Alzheimer’s disease is not quite understood, but the effect it has on the brain is clear. Visit www.alz.org and learn more about the disease, its symptoms and the impact it has on caregivers and society in general. It is also important to be proactive. Call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900 if you have questions, need help or just need someone to talk to for support.