November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Caregivers’ Month. One of the first questions I am asked when I speak or teach on the topic of dementia is, “What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?” The most logical answer is that everyone who has Alzheimer’s disease has dementia, but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease.
Prevalence and cost
Alzheimer’s disease was discovered by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. It is a brain disease that causes difficulties with memory, thinking, and behavior. 5.4 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and more than 15 million caregivers are providing their care. Alzheimer’s accounts for approximately 70% of all cases of dementia and one in 9 Americans will develop the disease past the age of 65. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day in our nation, Alzheimer’s is a topic that cannot be ignored. Nearly half of us will have Alzheimer’s at age 85 and it is currently the country’s 6th leading cause of death. Unfortunately, it is the only disease in the top ten that cannot be slowed, treated, or cured. Aside from the heartache of Alzheimer’s, it is also the most expensive disease in the US, costing the federal government $160 billion each year for patient care.
Women and Alzhiemer’s
Women are at the epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a woman past the age of 60 is twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as breast cancer. Two-thirds of Alzheimer’s caregivers are women and 2/3 of Alzheimer’s patients are female. The scientific community used to connect these numbers to the fact that women live longer than men, but now new studies are being conducted to determine if there is more than longevity involved in these gender statistics.
Hopefully by now you are alarmed but not despondent about the stark facts regarding Alzheimer’s. There is hope! Record numbers of clinical trials are underway, including four that address prevention. While Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented at this time, doctors and scientists are now convinced that lifestyle may play a part in reducing risks or delaying the onset of the disease.
There are things you can do
Here are ten things that the Alzheimer’s Association suggests you can do to “Love Your Brain”:
- Break a Sweat – Exercise can reduce the risk of cognitive decline
- Fuel Up Right – Follow a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat
- Follow Your Heart – Avoid risk factors for cardiovascular disease like obesity and high blood pressure
- Buddy Up – Support your brain health by engaging and socializing with others face to face
- Hit the Books – Take a class – formal education may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline
- Stump Yourself – Challenge your mind – play games of strategy and speed
- Mind your Mind – Some studies link depression with cognitive decline making it important to seek treatment and reduce stress
- Catch Some ZZZs – Not getting enough sleep may result in problems with memory and thinking
- Butt Out – In addition to other health risks, smoking increases risk for cognitive decline
- Heads Up – Wear your seat belt in the car and use a helmet when playing sports or riding your bike
While there is no guarantee that doing the above things will prevent you from developing Alzheimer’s disease in your lifetime, these things may help reduce risk or delay onset. And…they make good sense for overall health!
Resources are available in our community. The Alzheimer’s Association is the nation’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research. Visit http://www.alz.org for a variety of good information regarding Alzheimer’s. A 24/7 helpline is also available at 800.272.3900. All services are provided at no cost to families living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Reach out, we can help
And remember to use your Employee Assistance Program benefits from MINES and Associates when the stress of caregiving for someone with dementia becomes overwhelming. Caring for yourself is key. You owe it to your family to stay healthy in order to achieve the best quality of life for both you and your loved ones with dementia. MINES and Associates also provides workplace lunch-and-learn sessions regarding Alzheimer’s/dementia.
During November, make a point of learning more about Alzheimer’s and encourage your friends and family to do the same. There is reason to be optimistic that a breakthrough will occur. In the meantime, take good care of your brain and reach out for caregiving help. It’s the smart thing to do!
To Your Wellbeing,
MINES Affiliate and Alzheimer’s/dementia Expert