November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and it’s important to continue to shine light on this devastating illness that affects an estimated 5.7 million Americans.
While progress is made every day toward finding a cure, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that Alzheimer’s death rates increased 55% over the 15-year span from 1999 to 20141. Awareness is important because an early diagnosis can improve a patient’s quality of life by giving them access to the latest treatment options sooner2.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease was first identified in 1906 by German physician Alois Alzheimer. Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms included memory loss, language problems, unpredictable behavior and brain shrinkage. Psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, Dr. Alzheimer’s colleague, later coined the name “Alzheimer’s disease” in a 1910 medical book.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out even simple tasks. While age is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease and most patients are older than 65, the disease is not considered inevitable or a normal part of aging.
Know the signs
As we get older, we all find ourselves feeling absent-minded, forgetful or confused sometimes. However, there is a marked difference between what is a normal part of aging and what a person with Alzheimer’s disease experiences.
According to The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, a leading research institute, the following are possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s1:
- Memory loss and difficulty with language. It’s normal to forget things like names or appointments occasionally. People with Alzheimer’s disease often begin to forget things more often, are unable to recall information later, or they quickly forget recently learned information. They often forget simple words or they substitute unusual words, such as asking for “the thing for my mouth” instead of a toothbrush.
- Difficulty with daily tasks and disorientation. Do you ever walk into a room and forget why you’re there? That’s very common and not usually a cause for worry. However, people with Alzheimer’s disease will find it hard to complete everyday tasks, such as following the steps to prepare a meal or make a phone call. They can become lost in their own neighborhood and not know how to get home. While misplacing your keys or wallet is quite normal, a person with Alzheimer’s might place things in unusual places, such as an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.
- Problems with judgment and abstract thinking. It’s normal to make a debatable decision sometimes. Those with Alzheimer’s may start to make decisions that are out of character, such as giving away large sums of money. Complex mental tasks, like making calculations, become much more challenging, and they may make poor choices such as dressing inappropriately for the weather.
- Changes in mood, behavior and personality. Personalities can change with age, and it’s common and normal to experience sadness or moodiness. However, people with Alzheimer’s can start to have rapid mood swings—from calm to tears to anger—for no apparent reason, or they may become extremely confused, suspicious or fearful. They also may become very passive or inactive and sleep more than usual or skip their usual activities.
As the quest for a cure continues, doctors and researchers recommend some common-sense healthy behaviors as one line of defense against the disease1.
- Physical activity and healthy diet. Regular physical exercise increases blood and oxygen flow in the brain, which can help maintain cognitive health. Current evidence also suggests that heart-healthy eating may also help protect the brain. Limiting sugar and saturated fats and making sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is recommended.
- Cardiovascular health. In addition to diet and exercise, it’s important to manage cardiovascular disease risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and obesity.
- Mental health. Maintaining a healthy emotional state can help defend against Alzheimer’s. Social interactions and time spent with family and friends help stave off depression, while learning new things and challenging your brain can improved cognitive function. It’s important to get plenty of sleep as well.
Kadan Homecare’s compassionate caregivers serve Alzheimer’s and dementia patients with a high level of skilled nursing care, support and encouragement. We’re committed to the health and well-being of your family member. For more information or to talk with our team, call 770-396-8997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.