Alzheimer’s in America

Bringing awareness
By Elizabeth Harris

Currently, there are over 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Chances are that you know someone or are someone that is directly impacted by this cognitive illness.

While there is still no cure, the good news is that there are medications that can treat symptoms and potentially slow the progression of the disease. Doctors all over the world are working to find more treatments and, someday, a cure. There are also steps that you can take in your daily life that might help lower your risk.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. It accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia cases. 

Typically, symptoms appear slowly and progress over time, sometimes more quickly than others. The first symptom is often forgetting new information. This is because Alzheimer’s impacts the learning part of the brain first. It is difficult to determine how long people will live after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but some people have lived up to 20 years. With more treatments and prevention methods being discovered, this number could increase even more. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, warning signs of Alzheimer’s to watch for are:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life
• Challenges in planning or solving problems
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks
• Confusion with time or place
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
• New problems with words in speaking or writing
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
• Decreased or poor judgement
• Withdrawal from work or social activities
• Changes in mood or personality
The best thing to do if you or someone you know is experiencing these changes is to contact your doctor for an assessment and testing. 

PREVENTION

Even though there is not an effective cure for Alzheimer’s at this time, there are some possible changes that could help to ward off the disease. Mayo Clinic suggests that following the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) or Mediterranean diet could be a way to help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. These diets are heavy in vegetables—especially the green leafy kinds, whole grains, fish, beans, nuts and more. It is suggested to cut back on butter, cheese and alcohol, which can be difficult living in the Midwest. Fortunately, even the study participants that changed just a couple of aspects of their diets significantly cut their risk.

CAREGIVING

It is important to recognize that Alzheimer’s doesn’t affect only the person that is diagnosed with the disease. It’s estimated that 16 million people across the country are providing unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s. 

Caregiving can look different for everyone, but at times it can be very labor intensive and exhausting. Most people with Alzheimer’s reach a point where they need help with all of their daily tasks. This can take a tremendous toll on caregivers and ultimately negatively impact their mental and physical health.

Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association provide resources, such as support groups, for caregivers so they can stay well and continue to help their loved one. 

WORLD ALZHEIMER’S DAY

September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day. On this day, people and organizations all over the globe focus on raising awareness around Alzheimer’s disease. Because there is still so much work to be done with dementia and Alzheimer’s, it’s the perfect time to help fight back against this disease. 

There are many ways to get involved. You can become an advocate and talk to lawmakers about increasing funding for research and support. You can volunteer to be a part of a clinical trial to help advance research. You can make a donation to a trusted organization or join a committee to help plan fundraising events. There is a long way to go before a cure is found, but someday there will be the first survivor of Alzheimer’s disease, and that will be a great day! 

For more information on getting involved with the fight to end Alzheimer’s disease, go to alz.org.