Honoring National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month consists of sharing new resources for families affected by the disease as well as bringing it to more people’s attention to catch cases early and work to prevent it altogether. By bringing awareness to this difficult disease, we hope to reduce the stigma surrounding it as well as offer hope, understanding and support for all those who love someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is not simply becoming forgetful as you age, nor is it necessarily caused by aging. Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that causes dementia, and dementia affects memory, thinking and behavior. Dementia is the overall term for severe cognitive decline, whereas Alzheimer’s is a specific disease and the cause of 60-80% of dementias. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, and Alzheimer’s is the brain disease caused by the complex brain changes that follow this cell damage.
Degenerative diseases are characterized by a steady, progressive decline in health. What starts out as forgetting where you put your keys slowly turns into losing the ability to communicate or care for oneself. Many people experience short-term memory lapses as they age. However, Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes symptoms severe enough to affect daily life and can eventually cause death as patients forget how to speak, walk or swallow.
What Are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
The most common early symptom is short term memory loss. This memory loss is not simple forgetfulness but an inability to remember new things. As we age, it is common to forget something now and again, but you can usually recall it later, especially when prompted. Those with Alzheimer’s cannot remember; it is almost as if this information was never known to them. Other early warning signs include:
- Familiar tasks begin to become unfamiliar – they forget how to make a favorite recipe or how to get to places they have gone to for years.
- Concentration levels fall, planning becomes more difficult.
- They may lose track of the date or time or not know where they are.
- Struggles with vision (not related to macular degeneration) and depth perception leading to problems with balance or trouble reading.
- It becomes harder to engage in conversation because they forget their train of thought or struggle to remember words.
- Frequently misplacing things or putting things in strange places.
- Poor decision making when it comes to money, hygiene or grooming.
- Increased isolation: as things become more difficult and less familiar, they tend to withdraw from hobbies, socializing with friends or seeing family.
- Changes in mood and behavior are common as people become frustrated or upset by their inability to remember things, engage in conversation or become depressed.
How Do You Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and there is not yet a way to stop the progression of this disease. However, prevention and early diagnoses give Alzheimer’s patients a better chance at reducing symptoms and managing the disease. Getting checked by a doctor, even if you have mild symptoms, is essential as they may be able to tell you it is not in fact Alzheimer’s and work on a treatment plan to alleviate some of your symptoms. If someone gets diagnosed early, they have access to treatments and can make changes in their lifestyle to preserve cognitive function. Eating a brain-healthy diet, controlling blood pressure, exercising more, not smoking, staying social and stimulating their mental faculties are all great ways to prevent further degeneration. Early diagnosis also opens you up to the world of Alzheimer’s support. Whether through caregivers or support groups, interacting with others who are affected or who have loved ones with the disease can help address anxieties around the disease and provide you and your loved one with support and resources.
Awareness is the first step in solving any problem, the more that people are aware of how Alzheimer’s disease looks and acts, the more resources we will have to fight this heartbreaking disease. Whether you want to find out if you are at risk, know someone who is affected by Alzheimer’s or wish to donate your time or money, you can visit the Alzheimer’s Association to learn more. The Alzheimer’s Association also lists November as National Family Caregivers Month! So consider also honoring those who care for others as you learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and its effects.
This November, wear purple, use #ENDALZ on Social Media, and learn how you can get involved! Visit Alzheimer’s Association’s Get Involved page for more information.