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Alzheimer's 101

November is a notable month for senior issues. Not only is it National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, but also National Family Caregivers Month. Taken together, the observances underscore the importance of understanding the memory loss disease, as well as highlighting the work caregivers and others do to support affected individuals and families.

Alzheimer's affects around 5.7 million Americans today, but that number could almost triple by 2060, according to the CDC. Not only does that increase the number of cases, but also the burden of the disease, which is also felt by family and caregivers.

Fortunately, awareness has grown, as more of the population becomes educated about Alzheimer's prevention, symptoms and treatment, and how support networks matter to disease management.

Dual November observances

First, a bit of history on the themes of the month. Announced by President Ronald Regan in 1983, National Alzheimer's Awareness Month was initially observed when 2 million people were affected by the disease. Yet as diagnoses continue to increase, so have efforts to publicize education, raise funds for research and health care services, and encourage outreach to communities of at-risk or affected Americans. That group includes caregivers, who are recognized through National Family Caregivers month, declared by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Used to celebrate the efforts of caregivers and advocate their cause, the observance helps focus on the full scope of Alzheimer's disease.

A key objective for both national campaigns is to help people learn more. The four main areas for education are:

Prevention

Alzheimer's disease, and dementia in general, are difficult to get ahead of. According to the Alzheimer's Association, brain changes related to the development of the disease may occur 20 years before any symptoms present. The progressive nature of the disease also makes it difficult to tackle: Age plays a big role. Yet while unchangeable genetic and age-related factors are at play, so too are lifestyle factors that can contribute to risk. Tracking these factors, like high blood pressure, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet and vascular health at least helps seniors limit the risk they can control.

Symptoms

It's imperative to recognize how symptoms present. This duty is taken on by all parties, including seniors themselves, their families and existing caregivers they may have. Signs vary, but indicators to be on the lookout for include:

  • Confusion: Losing track of what day can happen to anyone during a busy schedule, but if a trend persists, the problem may be greater. Forgetting names and appointments can follow. Avoiding a dangerous situation when memory lapses at a bad time is possible if the symptoms are recognized early on.
  • Difficulty with tasks and problem-solving: Cognitive declines often display as difficulty with everyday tasks, old and new. Mental errors may be more frequent with dementia, and a warning sign of advancing decline.
  • Changes in mood or reactions: Abrupt mood swings or angry reactions to experiences may suggest something further along. Like other symptoms, parsing between the explainable and the suspect is a balancing act that requires attention.

Treatment

There are different options to learn about when Alzheimer's is diagnosed, or addressed proactively. The disease is a complex one with no known cure or method of slowing, which brings accommodative and personal care to the forefront. There are pharmacological solutions that can manage symptoms in mild cases, while other therapies for coping, mitigating and living are used for more severe instances. While new research is always being conducted, much of treating Alzheimer's lies in managing the disease to preserve quality of life. Families and caregivers can't be forgotten here, either. Counseling is a form of treatment that can have benefits for those affected by a loved one's diagnosis or memory loss, and which often goes underutilized.

Support

More than anything, support networks are crucial for managing the disease, for the individual, the caregiver and the family. The process of adapting to a diagnosis and experiencing it can prove to be challenging at times, which makes dependable relationships all the more important. And support can come from anywhere. The Alzheimer's Association operates a forum for sharing stories and praises of caregivers — personal tributes, they're called — with audiences and communities nationwide. Support groups are another avenue for relief, expression and coping that are valuable resources.

While a pervasive issue in health care, Alzheimer's disease can be managed if the right steps are taken. Above all, this means becoming educated on prevention, symptoms, treatment and the role of support. Finding a treatment option is a high priority, and retirement communities can help connect residents with the health care services and support they need to live comfortably. Communities with advanced memory care abilities can offer residents further assurance in being looked after.

Considering memory care options and want to learn more? Call us today. We can help.