November is Alzheimer’s Awareness month. If the thought of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) makes you shudder and want to turn away, you’re not alone. People are terrified of this disease. Most people would rather be hit by a truck, which is not a surprise when you consider the facts:
• There are 5 million people in the U.S. with AD
• Another person is diagnosed with AD every 68 seconds
• The 6th leading cause of death, it’s the only one of the top ten that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed
• While heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and HIV are declining, AD is growing
• By the year 2050, AD rates will triple
What are the signs and symptoms of AD?
These can include anger, aggression, anxiety, agitation, depression, memory loss and confusion. Some people with AD begin to withdraw from social gatherings, fearing that memory problems or disorientation will cause friends and family to view them differently. They may try to hide their symptoms or deny the facts, trying to appear ‘normal.’ Some loved ones may even provide excuses for them, hoping against hope that it’s just a part of normal aging and not really AD. In many cases, it takes an abnormal event – often something like getting lost while driving to an old, familiar destination – to finally trigger an acceptance that something is seriously wrong.
What can we do to fight AD?
There are indications that if you exercise your mind as well as your body, stay engaged socially and stick to a healthy diet you can help keep AD away. But as of now, except for some medications that temporarily help to relieve some symptoms, unfortunately there are no truly effective therapies available.
What can you do if you think a friend or family member might have AD?
You should schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional right away. Physicians can use a variety of tests and measures to determine whether your loved one has a form of dementia, including AD.
Now for the good news:
There is a huge network of support out there for the millions of sufferers and their devoted caregivers. A great place to start is the Alzheimer’s Association. (Check out their website atalz.org.) And please reach out to anyone who might need your help. One of the biggest needs for those suffering with AD is to fight the stigma this disease still carries. The best way we can do that is not turn away from the truth about AD. That’s the real reason Alzheimer’s Awareness month was created.