The month of September has been set aside as World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, with the 21st specifically Alzheimer’s Action Day. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 35 Million people world-wide and their families are affected by dementia. By raising awareness, the association hopes to diminish the stigma and make strides toward eradicating this all too common disease.
Dementia is a general term used to encompass a broad spectrum of symptoms of mental decline which interfere with participating in activities of daily life. Of all patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s makes up between 60 and 80 % of diagnoses. Many health conditions may bring about similar symptoms, although with treatment they are reversible; Alzheimer’s to date is not.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Named for German doctor Alois Alzheimer in the early 1900’s, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease in which cells in the area of the brain responsible for thinking, reasoning and learning are compromised and eventually die. According to the National Institutes for Health, symptoms usually begin after age 60, and the risk of developing the disease increases with age. It is important to note that dementia, in its varying forms and stages, is not a normal part of aging. Memory loss is often the first noticeable symptom, first appearing as forgetfulness and progressing to the inability to care for oneself without assistance.
Treatment and Care
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there is no cure and no treatment that stops its progression. One ray of hope is that there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve symptoms. At the time of this writing, there were over 100 clinical trials for new medications actively enrolling participants. Non-Alzheimer’s dementia symptoms may be alleviated by some of the same medications. The importance of seeing a doctor early is the patient’s best bet, as the dementia they are experiencing might not be Alzheimer’s at all, but a thyroid condition, depression, side effect of another medication or vitamin deficiency which can be reversed with proper treatment.
Risk Factors and Prevention
Some risk factors cannot be avoided, such as heredity and advancing age. Others, such as exposure to aluminum products, are now regarded as invalid. There are genetic markers which are present in Alzheimer’s patients, but their presence in a healthy individual does not guarantee they will develop the disease.
Currently, the best advice for lowering risk involves healthy lifestyle. Keep weight within the recommended range by remaining physically active, avoid tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. Keep heart disease in check, as 25% of our body’s blood supply is being pumped through an intricate network of blood vessels directly to the brain. Stay socially connected to friends and family, stimulating brain activity. Studies have also shown a possible link between the disease and head trauma with loss of consciousness; always wear a seat-belt in the car and keep seniors’ housing “fall-proof.”
Visit http://www.alz.org for information including links, research, caregiver and patient blogs, fundraising and awareness initiatives and much more.
NIH recommends Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, an arm of the National Institutes for Health.