September is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month
It started with little things. She couldn’t find her keys. Oh, there they are. What a funny place to leave them. What was the name of the young man who cut her grass? Goodness — he had “only” been cutting her grass for five years. Oh, yes — it is Jim. And then it progressed. Now when she lost her keys she could not retrace her steps, or when she forgot a name she could not recall it no matter how hard she tried.
Time passed. Her out-of-state family visited and noticed that her always clean and tidy home was becoming not only cluttered, but dirty too. She had always taken great pride in her personal appearance, but now she was wearing stained clothing and her hair was — well, it was just a mess. And when was the last time she took a bath or brushed her teeth.
They took her to the doctor who diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease. There were few treatments and no cures. This heartbreaking disease would rob her of her identity, all she had ever learned, memories of her family and friends, and of the ability to recognize that she was hungry or that she needed to relieve herself. Eventually, it would rob of her of life.
Currently, 3.2 million (1 in 9) Americans over the age of 65 years has Alzheimer’s disease. Every 66 seconds another person in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Baby Boomers¸ those born between 1946 and 1964 and currently ages 52 to 70 years, can expect the rate of Alzheimer’s disease to increase to 13.8 million by the year 2050 if a way to prevent it is not found.
Alzheimer’s disease is a thief that eventually takes your life. It does this slowly at first, causing changes to your brain that may not show up for years. Symptoms increase as the disease begins to take your ability to find just the right word or name, decreases your organizational skills, and makes everyday tasks more difficult. Eventually, its impact increases to include forgetting your own personal history, causing confusion about where you are and what day it is, changes in sleep habits, and changes in your personality and behavior. When Alzheimer’s dis-
ease reaches its most severe stage, it will have stolen your ability to walk, talk, sit, and swallow.
This disease also impacts your family. As Alzheimer’s disease steals your memory and your health it leaves your caregivers emotional, physical and financial stresses
that may impact their lives for years. In the United States, 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care are provided to those suffering from Alzheimer’s by 15 million caregivers. Caregivers spend more than $5,000 per year caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. For some families, this may mean giving up vacation, but for others it means cutting back on food or other family essentials. Two-thirds of caregivers
are woman and 34 percent are 65 years of age or older. They may be preparing for or have entered their own retirement — and others may postpone their retirement due to financial issues related to care giving. In many cases, these caregivers are still raising families or they may be dealing with their own issues related to aging.
This all brings us to the questions related to
preventing, treating and eradicating Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, there are pharmaceutical treatments for this disease. These medications do not stop the progression of this disease. They do help lessen and stabilize treatments for a period of time. They work for 6 to 12 months in half of the people who take them.
As with many diseases, there is no tried and true path to avoiding Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is hope. There are many organizations working daily to find ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Increasingly, personal care homes are adding secure dementia neighborhoods to their communities to ensure that our elders with Alzheimer’s get the best care possible.
In the meantime, take care of yourself. Follow a
heart healthy diet. Exercise. Control your diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Protect your brain by wearing a seatbelt or helmet and fall proof your home.
(Statistics from www.alz. org)