I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with great food and family! November is winding down but I would like to bring up an important topic. November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.
Many of us know someone who is affected by Alzheimer’s Disease and know how devastating it can be. We continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease every day but we still do not know why it happens or how to cure it. I hope that this post will help bring some more awareness to Alzheimer’s and convey the importance of finding a cure.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive disease that first starts to affect the memory. It leads to serious impairment to a person’s ability to hold a conversation, respond to their environment, and carry out activities of daily living.
Alzheimer’s Disease Facts
- Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease can first appear around age 60 (sometimes younger, though this is rare)
- Risk increases significantly with age
- Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death among adults in the United States
- In 2013, about 5 million adults were living with Alzheimer’s Disease
- This number is expected to grow over the coming years due to the aging baby boomer population
Who is at risk for Alzheimer’s Disease?
As mentioned, we are not entirely sure what causes Alzheimer’s. However, there are a variety of factors that may contribute to Alzheimer’s listed below.
- Age is the most important risk factor
- Genetics and family history may play a role in the development of the disease
- There is some evidence that high blood pressure and high cholesterol may contribute to Alzheimer’s
- Researchers believe that keeping the mind and body active may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This is good reason to exercise, keep an active social life, and stimulate the brain! Don’t let your retired loved ones waste the days away watching television, get them out and about!
- Researchers are studying to find if other environmental and lifestyle factors affect risk (such as diet or education)
Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
The first sign of Alzheimer’s is problems with memory. In addition, signs of early Alzheimer’s can include:
- Memory loss that begins to affect day to day life such as repeating questions or getting lost in familiar places
- Trouble keeping up with duties at work and home
- Problems with paying bills or handling money
- Poor judgement
- Losing things more frequently
- Changes in mood, behavior, and personality
Please note that these types of symptoms are not diagnostic of Alzheimer’s Disease. Sometimes, changes in memory, mood, or behavior (especially in older adults) can be attributed to an underlying medical condition. For example, urinary tract infections can produce changes in mental status in older adults and resolve with treating the UTI. Also, depression can cause similar symptoms. If you are concerned, see your healthcare provider for evaluation.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease
As mentioned, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. There are medications available to help maintain mental function and possibly delay progression of the disease. Other medications are used to treat behavioral symptoms such as anxiety, depression, restlessness, and agitation.
Use caution with use of sleep aids and anti-anxiety agents in people with Alzheimer’s disease as they can cause drowsiness, falls, and more confusion.
The NIH has a table of all of the different drugs used for Alzheimer’s including dosage and side effects if you are interested.
The health of caregivers is a public health priority.
Many people with Alzheimer’s are cared for by family members and friends inside their home. While caregiving is personally rewarding, it can take a toll on mental and physical health.
Caregiving has been associated with worsening physical and mental health, compromised immune function, financial hardship, increased use of psychoactive drugs, and increased risk of early death. The need for caregivers will only increase with our aging population.
There is no easy solution to this but it is good to have a solid plan in place for caregiving. Also, local caregiver support groups exist in the community. Google search “caregiver support” in your city to see what is out there.
In summary, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease is only going to increase in time with our aging population. Let’s bring awareness to the disease together!
Disclaimer: Information contained in this post should not be substituted for medical advice. If you think you are having a problem, contact your own provider who knows your health history.
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