When someone is getting older, they naturally become increasingly forgetful. Yet for some, that forgetfulness is a sign of something more serious, the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared the month of November to be National Alzheimer's Awareness Month. At the time, around 2 million people had the disease. Today, in America alone, it is over 6 million and growing. As Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month returns, the team at Evidation wants to take a closer look at the condition and its impact on society.
The facts about Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease. It is a form of dementia, which is a larger category of degenerative brain disease, that attacks a person’s memory and thinking skills. It’s rarely genetic, though some forms of early-onset Alzheimer’s can be linked to a genetic cause.
According to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Over 6 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease
- Though it can affect people of all ages, 72% of people with the condition are age 75 and older.
- Over 11% of people aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease.
Though these statistics are staggering, Alzheimer’s research continues to make progress to help people understand and fight this common disorder. Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is an excellent time to take a closer look at what the research currently says.
Alzheimer’s disease prevention strategies
Alzheimer’s disease, sadly, has no currently known cure, though research continues to look at treatment options. That said, the CDC indicates that many of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s are preventable. Reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia starts with reducing these preventable risk factors.
High blood pressure
According to one CDC study, around half of adults who had Alzheimer’s disease also had high blood pressure or were not physically active, especially regarding aerobic physical activity. One strategy to protect against Alzheimer’s is to increase physical activity and work to keep high blood pressure under control.
Smoking and binge drinking
Smoking and binge drinking are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Since these are preventable behaviors, focusing on getting help to quit may have a positive impact on a person's risk of developing dementia.
Obesity and diabetes
A connection between obesity, diabetes, and dementia has been established. Taking measures to increase activity while lowering caloric intake and combining that with good blood sugar control are helpful as part of an Alzheimer’s prevention strategy. Healthy eating and increased physical activity can both play a role in managing these conditions.
Diagnosis and screening methods
As we age, a little bit of memory loss is common. So, how do you determine if your loved one is dealing with normal memory loss or a more severe form, such as Alzheimer’s disease? The only way to know for sure is with an evaluation from a medical doctor.
Doctors use assessment tools, such as the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition, to screen individuals who may have dementia or Alzheimer’s. If these screening tools indicate potential dementia, the doctor can refer the person for a more thorough evaluation.
Currently, there is no scan or blood test that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, doctors use cognitive diagnostic tools and combine those with medical history, neurological examination, brain imaging, and observations to make a diagnosis.
Different stages of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms steadily worsen over time. There are three main stages of Alzheimer's: mild, moderate, and severe, which are also sometimes categorized as early-stage, middle-stage, and late-stage.
Mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s occurs when the person starts to notice memory lapses, and close friends or family may also notice it. These memory lapses may be challenges with finding the right word or name in conversation, or it can mean forgetting things that were just read or losing items quickly after picking them up. It’s important to note that these symptoms don’t always mean someone is starting to develop Alzheimer’s disease. They can be due to several concerns, including high stress levels, but it is the first sign that something’s not quite right.
When someone enters the middle stage of the disease, also known as moderate Alzheimer’s, they have more pronounced symptoms, getting frustrated or changing their behavior, confusing words, and forgetting events from their past history. This stage can last quite a long time, and the symptoms vary from one person to the next, which can make it hard to diagnose.
During the middle stage, a person’s memory loss and changes in personality start to impact daily life. While individuals in this stage can do many activities, they may need assistance and supervision to do so safely. Wandering away from home can also be a high risk during this stage, which is why caregiving is often necessary.
This is the final stage of the disease, when symptoms become severe. At this point, individuals will not be able to respond to their environment or have a conversation. As the disease progresses, they may no longer be able to control movement. This state often requires round-the-clock skilled nursing care. Hospice care can often help the individual as well as their loved one manage the changes that come in this stage.
Alzheimer’s caregiving tips and finding community support
Taking care of a loved one who has Alzheimer’s is rewarding, but it can also be tremendously stressful and overwhelming, especially if the condition causes a serious change in behavior. Caregivers can reduce some of their stress by practicing healthy self-care. Consider these tips:
- Build a community around yourself that you can tap into when you need help.
- Remember to eat healthy and get active so you can protect your own physical health.
- Find local caregiver support groups and attend meetings. Utilize online options if you can't get out of the house.
- Take short daily breaks.
- Maintain your friendships or hobbies to give yourself a mental break from caregiving tasks.
Support is critical along the way. Having people you can talk to who understand the challenges of caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease will help you navigate this world better. Some support groups to consider include:
- Local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association
- Alzheimer's Foundation of America
- Dementia Mentors
- Local Memory Cafe
As you focus on finding support, remember to work to prioritize your own personal health. Evidation can assist through clear guidelines and support that will help you track your activity and food intake so you can achieve your personal health goals. By focusing on your own personal health, you will have more to give to your loved one with dementia. Learn more about our platform today. You can also learn more about our research into Alzheimer’s disease and the use of digital monitoring to help with the screening and protection of those affected.