The month of November is known as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. President Ronald Reagan made that designation in 1983 and it is something that is still recognized today. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, at that time there were less than two million people with the disease. Through the years that number has grown to more than five million.
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S
Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of Dementia that leads to memory, thinking and behavior problems. It is the most common form of dementia accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases. It is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time and eventually comes to a point where a person can no longer accomplish daily tasks. In the beginning, memory problems are mild, but as the disease progresses patients become unaware of their environment and may no longer be able to carry on a conversation. Once their symptoms become noticeable, Alzheimer’s patients typically live an average of eight years, but can survive for as many as 20 years depending on other health factors.
Although those ages 65 and older are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, there are thousands of others under the age of 65 who have early-onset Alzheimer’s.
IS THERE A CURE FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
There are no drugs or treatments to cure Alzheimer’s disease but there are treatments that can slow down its progression. Researchers are constantly looking for new treatments as they search for a cure for this mind-robbing disease.
Part of Alzheimer’s disease awareness is knowing the symptoms so you can know whether a loved one may be developing it. The symptoms include:
¯ Memory Loss — People may forget things they’ve learned as well as dates and events. They may also ask for the same information over and over again.
¯ Trouble Planning or Solving Problems — You may notice a loved one taking longer to complete tasks they used to be able to do much quicker. You may also notice they have trouble following directions, even a simple recipe becomes complex.
¯ Confusion with Time or Place — People with Alzheimer’s often lose track of time. They also forget where they are and even how they got there.
¯ Misplacing Things & Unable to Retrace Steps – As people forget dates and events they may also start to misplace objects. Although they would be able to retrace their steps in the past and find what they were looking for, that is no longer the case. This may lead them to accuse others of stealing because they can no longer find what’s theirs.
¯ Mood & Personality Changes — Because of the changes that are going on in their mind, you may notice major shifts in mood and personality. They may become confused, suspicious and even depressed.
HELPING PEOPLE WITH ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are things you can do to help a loved one, especially if the disease is still in its early stages.
¯ Keep a Daily Routine — This helps to avoid confusion and lets the person know what can be expected. Alzheimer’s patients like routines.
¯ Don’t Overstimulate — Keep things simple. Say one thing at a time. Present only one idea so that the person can understand it the best they can.
¯ Be Reassuring — Always try to make the person feel safe and comfortable. Sometimes even saying the words, “You are safe with me” is enough to make that person feel at ease.
¯ Don’t Yell or Argue — As frustrated as you may get, imagine how the patient feels. They can no longer grasp what is going on inside their own heads. Don’t yell or argue out of frustration. Be the calming voice they need.
While you may be able to care for an Alzheimer’s patient in the early stages of the disease, doing so as it progresses can become more challenging. Many times the patient can present a danger to himself by wandering off seniorliving.org/healthcare/wandering/” or forgetting to turn off the stove. If this is the case it may be time to consider a memory care facility that can monitor and manage the patient.
ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE AWARENESS
During Alzheimer’s disease awareness month, organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association work to educate the public about the disease. They discuss some of the areas mentioned above, symptoms, treatments and coping.
In the months leading up to November, there are often many “memory walks” to raise awareness about the disease and to also raise money for research. You can participate in a walk near you and find out more about how you can get involved.
If you can’t make it to a walk, you can always make a donation to help find a cure. Volunteers to work with Alzheimer’s patients are also always needed. The Office for the Aging is always looking for “Friendly Visitors” who can spend time reading or doing activities with Alzheimer’s patients while giving their caregivers a little respite.
During the month of November and all throughout the year, being aware of the signs of Alzheimer’s disease and joining in the fight against it is something we all can do.
The Office for the Aging offers a program to help caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients which provides various types of respite such as in-home care, consumer directed care and Adult Day Care Services. Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s can be challenging. The Office for the Aging is here to help. Call the NY Connects Helpline at 753-4582 for more information.