Efforts are underway this month to focus attention on Alzheimer’s (AD), a disease that, along with other forms of dementia, affects some 44 million people globally and is rapidly growing in prevalence.
During November in the U.S., Alzheimer’s Awareness Month observances include online tributes to caregivers, listings of educational and support resources, and a way to contribute to research.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 5.8 million U.S. residents today live with Alzheimer’s — someone develops it every 65 seconds — and this figure projected to more than double to 14 million by 2050. Other statistics: Some 5.3 million patients today are at least age 65, and roughly two-thirds are women.
As the population ages, the disease will impact even greater numbers of people. Its prevalence among those age 65 and older is expected double every five years. This year alone in the U.S., AD and other dementias are expected to cost $290 billion. By 2050, those costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion.
For its part, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is encouraging people to be mindful that Alzheimer’s is truly a disease — not a normal part of aging. It is a degenerative brain disorder that affects memory, thinking, and language skills.
The AFA also urges individuals to speak up when someone begins to exhibit warning signs, such as getting lost going to familiar places, frequently forgetting friends’ or relatives’ names, show mood and personality changes, or repeatedly misplace things, lose track of time, or struggle to solve problems or complete everyday tasks.
A diagnosis given in Alzheimer’s early stages allows patients to begin treatments earlier that might help to slow disease progression. It also can afford individuals time to enroll in clinical trials working toward more effective therapies, and to take an active role in their medical, financial and legal decisions, the AFA said.
The organization also wants patients and the more than 16 million unpaid U.S. caregivers to realize that they are not alone — help is available. The AFA Helpline is staffed by social workers trained in dementia care; they are available at 866-232-8484 or through this site.
Although what causes Alzheimer’s is not totally clear, the AFA reminds people that risk can be reduced through lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet, regular exercise and social activity, cognitive stimulation, tobacco avoidance and moderate alcohol intake.
“Raising awareness starts from within,” said Charles J. Fuschillo Jr., AFA president and CEO, in a news release. “As we work together to educate others about Alzheimer’s disease throughout November, there are things everyone should be aware of, regardless of whether Alzheimer’s is in their lives.”
Among those who have sent tributes are Richard Lui. “My mom is my dad’s caregiver. She is a hidden hero,” Lui wrote on the caregivers’ page. “All caregivers are.” Yvette Nicole Brown gave this advise to others: “As a caregiver, being prepared makes all the difference for you and your loved one.”
Elsewhere, SeniorLiving.org, a product and services resource for older adults, is observing the month by offering caregiver tips that may help their loved one with AD. These include maintaining a daily routine, presenting one idea at a time, always being reassuring, and not yelling or arguing. If a patient begins to do things dangerous, such as as wandering off or forgetting to turn off the stove, it may be time to consider a memory care facility, the group said.
The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation offers information about AD, including clinical stages, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and drug treatment and research. It’s also providing suggestions and information for caregivers, as well as a Facebook Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support Group.
Alzheimer’s Awareness Month was designated by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. At the time, there were fewer than 2 million U.S. residents with the disease.
Worldwide, an awareness month for Alzheimer’s is recognized in September.
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