World Alzheimer's Day, the Alzheimer's Association, and You
The declaration of World's Alzheimer’s Day brings to our attention the need to confront the reality of this most common of dementias and to acknowledge that we can take steps to address not only the medical, economic, and social issues associated with the disease, but the personal issues as well. Although the Alzheimer’s Association reports that 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, there are millions of others who live with the disease as well, because they are the husband, wife, partner, sister, brother, mother, father, aunt, uncle, cousin, or best friend of someone who has the disease.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, the incidence of dementia will nearly double every 20 years: the estimate for 2010 is 35.6 million people around the world with the disease, with a projected number of 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050. With numbers this large, it can be easy to turn your back and try to ignore the presence of this disease. Yet medical experts and organization like the Alzheimer’s Association are hoping people will take the opportunity of World Alzheimer’s Day to take note of some important issues, including how to recognize symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and what individuals can do to help find better ways to prevent, treat, and hopefully eventually cure this disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers a list of the ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. They urge everyone who is personally experiencing any of these symptoms, or people who know someone else who is, to see a medical professional for an evaluation. Having one or more of these symptoms (described briefly below) does not mean a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is certain. In fact, there are several factors that can cause the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease, including use of certain medications, mild cognitive impairment, chronic stress, use of alcohol, and presence of various medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
The ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include the following. A more detailed explanation is available on the Alzheimer’s Association website.
* Memory loss that disrupts daily life and activities
* Challenges in planning or solving problems
* Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work, or leisure
* Confusion about time or place
* Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships
* New trouble with speaking or writing words
* Misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace steps
* Decreased or poor judgment
* Withdrawal from work or social activities
* Changes in mood and personality
It is critical to identify if Alzheimer’s disease is indeed the diagnosis, because there are treatments available that can help slow progression of the disease, make it easier to manage symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and thus improve the quality of life for both the person with Alzheimer’s and his or her loved ones. Early diagnosis also allows patients and their loved ones time to explore treatment options and make lifestyle changes, financial arrangements, and other plans in a more leisurely manner. The Alzheimer’s Association offers many programs and supporting information to help families with these needs.
In addition to recognizing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, individuals can consider taking part in Memory Walks, which are sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association. Memory Walks are fund raising and awareness-raising events that have been taking place in cities throughout the country. Many cities still have Memory Walks scheduled through the end of the year, and individuals can find a walk in their area and sign up.
One of the kindest acts a person can do is to offer respite to a caregiver of an Alzheimer’s patient. Alzheimer’s caregivers typically experience a great deal of stress associated with providing daily care for their loved one. While the Alzheimer’s Association and other groups provide essential support group opportunities and information about coping techniques, providing respite for an Alzheimer’s caregiver, even just a few hours a week or month, is an invaluable service many people can easily offer someone they know who is struggling with the stress of caregiving.
The dire estimates of the rise in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by Alzheimer’s Disease International is a grim wakeup call concerning a disease whose very mention frightens a great many people, because it robs us of one of our greatest possessions: our memories. Yet on this World Alzheimer’s Day, let’s now forget that we can do something about this devastating disease: know the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and take action if you know someone who has them, help others who are struggling with the disease in their families, and learn more about organizations and groups that are involved with the disease, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Disease International, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center from the National Institute of Aging.
Written by Deborah Mitchell
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