June Is Alzheimer’s And Brain Awareness Month
Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about cognitive health and disease.
This month-long observance is headed by the Alzheimer’s Association, which promotes events, workshops, and other initiatives around the country to educate the public and support those living with cognitive decline.
In addition, Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month honors caregivers and the work they do to improve their loved ones’ lives.
Alzheimer’s statistics at a glance:
- About 47 million people around the world have Alzheimer’s or dementia
- By 2030, that number will increase to nearly 76 million unless something changes
- 4.7 million Americans were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010. That will soar to 13.8 million by 2050.
- 15 million Americans care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia
- Globally, Alzheimer’s is the fifth most common cause of death for adults older than 65
- 90% of Alzheimer’s patients do not have symptoms until after 60
- Americans spent an estimated $259 billion on Alzheimer’s care in 2017
So throughout Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, educate yourself about these diseases and the many ways to support a healthy brain.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that destroys the brain’s nerve cells and tissues. This devastating disease can cause memory loss, diminished cognition, and the inability to plan. Sadly, it can also render the patient unable to speak, recognize loved ones, control their behaviors, or take care of themselves.
Statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association show that 60% to 80% of dementia patients have Alzheimer’s. This condition is often diagnosed in seniors 65 and older. If it is identified earlier, it is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, though several treatments can delay its progression. The effectiveness of these treatments varies, as Alzheimer’s affects everyone differently, and some cases could be more aggressive than others.
What Is The Difference Between Dementia And Alzheimer’s?
Many people use Alzheimer’s and dementia synonymously, though they are two different diseases.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, an umbrella term for cognitive conditions that affect memory loss. Besides Alzheimer’s, other types of dementia include:
- Traumatic brain damage
- Other conditions with similar symptoms
Causes And Risks Factors For Alzheimer’s Disease
Researchers still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. However, they have found several risk factors, including:
- Family history
Don’t panic if one or more of these applies to you. You may have a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will happen. Instead, we suggest discussing your concerns with your physician to learn about your risk.
Symptoms Of Alzheimer’s Disease
It’s normal to forget someone’s name or to pay a bill every once in a while. However, these things consistently happen for people with dementia. Moreover, these symptoms gradually become worse as the disease progresses.
Memory loss is one of the most telling signs, but there are many other symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as:
- Difficulty performing routine tasks, like using the dishwasher
- Trouble with problem-solving
- Difficulty speaking or writing
- Confusion about dates, names, times, or places
- Diminished judgment
- Poor personal care
- Mood and personality shifts
- Social withdrawal, including from loved ones
Symptoms vary depending on how advanced the disease is.
What Are The Stages Of Alzheimer’s?
Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition, the effects slowly worsen as it advances to new stages, which include:
- Stage 1: Symptoms typically are not present. Early detection is possible depending on family history.
- Stage 2: Early signs like forgetfulness commonly occur.
- Stage 3: Moderate mental and physical limitations like memory and concentration changes start to manifest. Often, only people closest to the individual detect these changes.
- Stage 4: Alzheimer’s is usually diagnosed at this point as symptoms such as memory loss or difficulty managing routine tasks becoming more apparent, though it is still classified as “mild.”
- Stage 5: Symptoms ranging from mild to severe necessitate care from family or caregivers.
- Stage 6: Individuals often lose the complete ability to care for themselves. They likely require a caregiver to assist with feeding, bathing, dressing, and other essential tasks.
- Stage 7: By this stage, the individual may completely lose their ability to communicate or make facial expressions.
Each stage requires more help from a caregiver. Therefore, family caregivers should find resources and build a support system to better manage their own care as their loved one’s.
How Is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?
Doctors can only conclusively diagnose Alzheimer’s by studying a patient’s brain tissue after their death. But of course, health professionals can utilize other tests to determine the person’s mental abilities and reach a diagnosis.
Doctors generally begin with a medical history assessment that includes questions about:
- Family history
- Existing or previous conditions and prescriptions
- Diet, substance use, and lifestyle
After that, the doctor will perform a series of tests to reach a diagnosis. These include:
- Mental tests: Doctors examine short- and long-term memory as well as time and place awareness. They usually ask questions such as that day’s date, the current sitting president, or the ability to recall short lists.
- Physical tests: Your doctor reviews your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. Depending on the situation, you may have to provide a urine or blood sample for ongoing testing.
- Neurological tests: These exams help doctors eliminate other potential diagnoses or health conditions. Here, the doctor can also test your reflexes, ability to speak, and muscle tone.
- Brain tests: These are usually performed with an MRI, CT scan, or PET scans to identify physical signs of dementia in the brain.
Treatments For Alzheimer’s Disease
Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, although several treatments can minimize the symptoms and slow the disease’s progression.
The type of treatment your loved one’s doctor prescribes will depend on the severity of the disease.
- For early to mild Alzheimer’s, physicians may prescribe Aricept or Exelon, which support acetylcholine levels. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that promotes memory.
- For moderate or late-stage Alzheimer’s, your doctor might prescribe Aricept or Namenda. Namenda eases the symptoms of excessive glutamate, which kills brain cells.
Your loved one’s doctor may suggest depression and anxiety medications as well. Some doctors also prescribe antipsychotics to ease other symptoms, such as:
Your loved one’s doctor may recommend several lifestyle changes to help your loved one better manage their disease. Doctors usually work with patients to form strategies to improve:
- Confrontational events
- Daily rest
- Stress levels
Is Alzheimer’s Preventable?
Unfortunately, nothing can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. As the Alzheimer’s Association states, “Everyone who has a brain is at risk to develop Alzheimer’s, the only leading cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.”
But, a growing body of research has found a link between healthy lifestyles and lower rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s. While not definitive, the following may reduce your risk:
- Not smoking
- Regular physical and mental exercises
- Maintaining a plant-based diet high in antioxidants
- Having a robust social life
Before you make any significant lifestyle adjustments, make sure to discuss them with your doctor.
Recognizing Caregivers During Alzheimer’s And Brain Awareness Month
If your parent or loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may decide to take on the role of the family caregiver. This might be a choice, or you may have no other option. Either way, supporting a loved one with this disease can quickly become a full-time responsibility.
Having a loved one with Alzheimer’s is hard enough, but caring for them is even more difficult. For this reason, it’s imperative that you find ways to care for yourself and maintain your wellbeing, which includes:
- Eating healthy foods
- Exercising regularly
- Mindfulness or breathing exercises
- 7-9 hours of quality sleep
Of course, there are other ways to practice self-care, but the point is that when you care for yourself, you can better care for your loved one.
As your parent’s condition progresses, you may want to consider hiring a professional caregiver. A paid caregiver can provide specialized care that you cannot.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating, complex disease that we still know very little about. There is no cure or preventable treatment, though some medications and lifestyle changes can slow its progression.
Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month is the perfect time to learn about cognitive decline and find ways to support those with this disease.
If you suspect that your loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, contact their doctor right away. They can determine your parent’s health, offer a strategy to manage the symptoms, and help you find a support network.
If you are a family caregiver in need of respite care or additional support, we can help. Call us today at 1-888-541-1136 and ask about our hiring process. We’ll match your loved one with the right caregiver so they can maintain their quality of life.
For more resources, check out the blog.
- “Everything You Need to Know About Alzheimer’s Disease.” Healthline, Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/alzheimers-disease.
- “Join Us as We Go Purple in June!” Alzheimer’s Association Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.
- “June Is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.” Unicity Healthcare, 31 Aug. 2020, www.unicityhealthcare.com/june-is-alzheimers-and-brain-awareness-month-showing-support-for-those-living-with-dementia/.