Posts Tagged Alzheimers
It’s November and of course that means that the holidays are just around the corner, but it also means that it is once again National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. You may see familiar buildings in the greater Denver area lit in purple to remind people that the quest for a world without Alzheimer’s is more determined than ever.
Much has happened since my blog entry last November. All very positive, by the way. I appreciate this opportunity to update you on many things that are happening in the field of Alzheimer’s/Dementia. As a reminder, the reason for my passion and commitment around this subject is that three of our four parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease within a year and a half of each other, and they lived for 16, 14, and 11 years with the disease. Although we lost our last “Lovie” four years ago, I remember vividly those many years of caregiving and how challenging it was to juggle work/life balance issues.
I have been with MINES and Associates for six years now and present a lunch and learn session called Alzheimer’s/Dementia A to Z to our client groups. I am seeing attendees of all ages in the sessions and because we always end the presentation with an explanation of the twelve things we can all do at any age to reduce our risk for dementia or delay its onset. I am seeing more and more young people taking an interest in brain health. I am also seeing an uptick in employees seeking coaching on the topic of Alzheimer’s/Dementia through the Employee Assistance Plan benefits that their employers provide.
One thing is for sure. Going it alone while trying to care for someone with dementia is never recommended. Our community offers a variety of resources to family care partners and I will talk about some of them in this posting.
But first, a quick update on promising research! I continue to be the most optimistic I have been in years that a breakthrough is on the horizon. So much going on! One of the most interesting clinical trials is happening right here in the Denver area at the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Research Center on the Anschutz campus. My good friends and renowned neurologists Dr. Huntington Potter and Dr. Jonathan Woodcock are now in Phase III of the Leukine trial. Leukine is a compound already approved by the FDA for bone marrow stimulation. The Anschutz clinic team discovered that it might have possible benefits for Alzheimer’s as well. Stay tuned – you may be seeing updates on the evening news about the great work being done here in our area. There are also other promising angles on how to tackle Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Current thinking is definitely outside the box – many new cause and effect theories are now being explored by the medical and scientific community.
I spent a week in Washington DC in June this summer, representing the Alzheimer’s Association at our annual Public Policy Forum. Our group spoke with every member of Congress and I am pleased to report that we got the $425 million in additional research funding we requested. That will put the National Institute of Health’s Alzheimer’s research budget at $2.3 billion annually beginning in 2019. The National Alzheimer’s Plan that was written into law in 2010 calls for a prevention, treatment, and cure by 2025. Hope has never been stronger that we are going to meet that goal and get this fixed. By the way, when that finally happens, I will be throwing a party for the world so you will all be invited!
In the meantime, there is much work to do to educate, help, and support families who are living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. The number one question I am asked is what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia. A good way to explain it is to say that everyone with Alzheimer’s has dementia but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s. Vascular dementia from strokes, Lewy Body dementia, and Frontotemporal dementia are other forms of the most common dementias. While Alzheimer’s accounts for approximately 65% of all cases of dementia, many primary care physicians may not be prepared to provide a specific diagnosis. Asking them for a referral to a neurologist or geriatrician can help a family learn what type of dementia they are facing with their loved one.
While there are no treatments that stop the progress of dementia at this time, there are some drug therapies that may help with symptoms in some cases to some extent for some period of time. Asking your specialist about these options can get a conversation started about what might be beneficial for your loved one.
Aside from the dementia coaching provided through the MINES EAP program, The Alzheimer’s Association provides a 24/7 helpline (800.272.3900) that family members can call regardless of what type of dementia their family is dealing with. This is a powerful resource tool for caregivers who have questions or simply need to chat with someone about behaviors, etc.
Another organization that I am involved with is also at the forefront of trying to improve the quality of life for those living with all forms of dementia and their family care partners. Dementia Friendly Denver is part of Dementia Friendly America, a not for profit, grassroots, all-volunteer initiative that was introduced at the White House Conference on Aging in 2015. Our volunteer team is working on eight projects in the greater Denver area and you can check them all out at dementiafriendlydenver.org. The goal of the projects is to make our community more dementia-friendly and to reduce the stigma surrounding the topic of dementia.
And please remember that you can still enjoy the holidays with family members with dementia. The key is to practice the “Holiday Lite” approach. Things don’t need to be extravagant or perfect. Make sure holiday activities and outings are short in length. Our Lovies wear out faster than we do. An hour for us is like five hours for them. And make sure holiday decorations that look like candy or food are out of the reach of those with dementia. Be prepared for upsets due to the disruption of routines during the festivities and provide rest periods for everyone!
So in closing, as we enter November and National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, remember that you are not alone. Utilizing the dementia resources available throughout our city can help you get organized and knowledgeable. And most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourselves. Respite care is available in our community and the Alzheimer’s Association can help you investigate options. Exercising, taking walks, meditation, and outings with friends can help alleviate the stress associated with being a dementia caregiver. Best wishes for a peaceful and enjoyable holiday season! – JJ
Hard to believe it is November again already. And with November comes National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. So much has happened on the Alzheimer’s front since this time last year.
I have never been more optimistic that a breakthrough is on the horizon. Dr. Huntington Potter at the Anschutz Alzheimer’s Research Center right here in Denver has an exciting clinical trial going on with promising results so far. It really feels to me like some big news may be around the corner from the scientific community.
In the meantime, family care partners for those living with various forms of dementia need resources, support, and last but not least, rest!
Although all three of my parents who suffered from Alzheimer’s have left us, I remember well the journey my family traveled for 16 years through the world of dementia. Fortunately, someone recommended that we reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association and thankfully we did. They provided, classes, support groups, and a 24/7 helpline so we could call day or night and ask any question, no matter how basic or complicated. A real person was always on the phone to help us through the roughest times. So here comes the number; write it down… you will never be alone with this number at hand. 800.272.3900. The Alzheimer’s Association is also the largest private funder of dementia research. The bottom line is that these folks are just great – they will help you find the resources you need and care about you and your family throughout your journey. And they don’t care what type of dementia your family may be dealing with.
This might be a good time to mention some other great resources and in the process, give a brief overview of my involvement in the world of dementia since losing my folks to Alzheimer’s. People sometimes say they bet I am relieved to be “done” with Alzheimer’s and I tell them, “Oh no, I am just warming up”. I will not rest until we get Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia off the planet.
That is one reason why I’m involved in a new project called Dementia Friendly Denver. We are a grassroots, not for profit initiative that is part of Dementia Friendly America, which was introduced a few years ago at the White House Conference on Aging. There are now 130 American cities joining in this all-volunteer mission to make communities more dementia friendly and improve the lives of those living with various forms of dementia. The DFD team I chair recently partnered with the University of Denver to host a two-hour community education event. You can check out the slides from that event and upcoming news at http://www.dementiafriendlydenver.org/.
The reason it is important to think about all types of dementia in November during National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is that only 50% of those with dementia get a diagnosis. I want to spread the word that it is important to know which type of dementia your loved one may have. Alzheimer’s accounts for about 70% of all cases, but there are other types of dementia, like Vascular, Lewy Body, and Frontotemporal to name a few. Dementia Friendly Denver has a Resource Guide listed on the website I mentioned above that will connect you with 800#s and websites for each type of dementia support. You can also get a referral list of doctors who can help you get a specific diagnosis at the Alzheimer’s Association helpline. Here comes the number again….800.272.3900.
And of course, all of this is why I joined the MINES team a few years ago providing dementia lunch and learns and coaching for our EAP clients.
I guess you can tell that I feel passionate about our need to find a prevention, treatment, and cure for Alzheimer’s disease and that I really feel we are close. In the meantime, November is a month to help each other find the resources we need as family caregivers and most importantly, to take care of ourselves so we can care for our loved ones. Respite is a term for giving caregivers a break and it is critical for those of us caring for someone with dementia. Everyone needs to recharge. So let me give you another resource…..you can find a Respite Locator on the website coloradorespitecoalition.org. It provides a list of respite options which you can then investigate.
OK, it would be totally inappropriate to wish you all a “Happy Alzheimer’s Awareness Month” so instead I will tell you that I am happy to have new hope for a breakthrough. I am also happy that Congress voted to include an additional $414 million in next year’s Alzheimer’ Research budget. That is real progress.
Enjoy the month of November with your family, don’t hesitate to get the help you need now as a care partner and take care of yourselves so we can celebrate when the breakthrough comes. I will be throwing a party for the world and you will all be invited! – JJ
To Your Wellbeing,
MINES Affiliate and Alzheimer’s/dementia Expert
Thanksgiving is tomorrow and as such many of us are thinking of what we are thankful for in each of our lives. Good friends, loving family, and good health re: some of the common things that we find ourselves thinking of. So it is this spirit that MINES wants all of us to take a moment and thank the (sometimes thankless) caregivers that look after their loved ones who depend on them, often times sacrificing their own wellbeing in the process. There are countless reasons why one might become a caretaker or need a caretaker themselves but since it is Alzheimer’s awareness month we will focus on those that fall into the Alzheimer’s and dementia circle. About 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. [Alzheimer’s Association. (2015). 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.]
Unsung (and unpaid) heroes
Given that a large percentage of caregivers are family members or friends of those that they care for, they are rarely paid or reimbursed for any of the time and resources that they spend caregiving. In fact, approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.] Not only do these folks go unpaid, they are often paying out of their own pocket for supplies, transportation, and lost wages due to missed work in the line of caregiver duty. Alzheimer’s and dementia are already ranked as some of the most expensive medical issues facing the US today, but with personal expenditures and lost wages for caregivers being hard to calculate exactly, this problem might be even worse than what the current stats say.
Who are they?
Despite their superhuman capacity for empathy, caregivers are normal people, and oftentimes do not have any formal caregiving training or background. They also come from just as diverse of backgrounds as that of the people that they care for. Typically, they are adults with the average age being 49.2 years old, with 48% of caregivers falling in between the ages of 18 and 49 years old. About a third of caregivers are older than 65. In terms of ethnicity, according to a 2015 survey, 62% of caregivers identify as White, while 17% identified as Hispanic, 13% as African-American, and 6% as Asian-American. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
Women and Caregiving
A very important aspect of the Alzheimer’s/dementia crisis is that women are right at ground zero. Not only do women face a 60% greater chance of getting Alzheimer’s or dementia, but upwards of 75% of all caregivers are female, and may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than males. [Institute on Aging. (2016). Read How IOA Views Aging in America.]
While women account for the vast majority of caregivers, they also make up a large percentage of the individuals being cared for. In fact, 65% of care recipients are female, with an average age of 69.4. The younger the care recipient, the more likely the recipient is to be male. 45% of recipients aged 18-45 are male, while 33% of recipients aged 50 or higher are male. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.] Much of this is due to the fact that Alzheimer’s and many types of dementia tend show up in women a much higher rate than men. Researchers are trying to determine what the reason is behind this. It was once thought that it was because women tend to live longer than men, but as the average life expectancy becomes closer this is being challenged and other factors are being considered.
Who are they caring for?
While many caregivers do so professionally, many make the leap into the role of caregiver in order to care for family or close friends. This group actually makes up the vast majority of caregivers with 85% of all caregivers caring for a relative or other loved one. Of these caregivers 42% are caring for a parent, 15% are caring for a friend or other non-blood related loved one, 14% for a child, 7% for a parent-in-law, and 7% for a grandparent-in-law. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
What are they doing?
There is no set job description for caregiving. The day to day tasks vary from one individual to the next depending on the needs of those they care for. It is estimated that 96% of caregivers are charged with assisting or completely taking over normal everyday activities such as shopping, cooking, picking up prescriptions, and so forth which adds up fast, leaving little time for the caregivers’ own needs. [AARP and United Health Hospital Fund. (2012). Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care.]
According to a recent survey, on average, caregivers spend:
- 13 days each month on tasks such as shopping, food preparation, housekeeping, laundry, transportation, and giving medication;
- 6 days per month on feeding, dressing, grooming, walking, bathing, and assistance toileting;
- 13 hours per month researching care services or information on disease, coordinating physician visits or managing financial matters. [Gallup-Healthways. (2011). Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.]
To make matters worse, many of the tasks are complex and often medical in nature. A recent report that talked about caregivers who provide ongoing chronic care, 46% had to perform medical and nursing tasks on a regular basis, sometimes without the ability to obtain proper training to perform the needed tasks. [AARP and United Health Hospital Fund. (2012). Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care.]
It is important to mention that Alzheimer’s and other dementia related disease call for some of the more intensive and long term caregiving commitment. Measured by duration of care, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers provide care on average 1-4 years more than caregivers caring for someone with an illness other than Alzheimer’s disease. They are also more likely to be providing care for five years or longer. [Alzheimer’s Association. (2015). 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.]
How can we support them?
Caregivers report having difficulty finding time for one’s self (35%), managing emotional and physical stress (29%), and balancing work and family responsibilities (29%) (NAC, 2004). About 73% of surveyed caregivers said praying helps them cope with caregiving stress, 61% said that they talk with or seek advice from friends or relatives, and 44% read about caregiving in books or other materials (NAC, 2004). If you find yourself close to someone who is providing care for someone and you’d like to help out, keep in the mind the best way that you can help is to stay out of their way and instead go do daily tasks that they do not have time to do themselves such as shopping, picking up kids from school/activities, or offering company when they do get the rare moment to themselves. But remember if they just want to be alone make sure to give them the space they need to unwind.
So with all this in mind it’s easy to see that we should all be thankful to the caregivers in the world. Many people would be suffering even more without the time and personal sacrifices made by these special people every day. So this holiday season everyone at MINES says THANK YOU CAREGIVERS! Thank you for everything you do!
To Your wellbeing,
The MINES Team
Sources and Resources:
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
You may not know it, but November is the month to go purple! You will see buildings lit with the color purple and lots of publicity regarding Alzheimer’s disease, all to highlight November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and Caregiver Month. The tradition started back in 1983 when President Reagan (who died of Alzheimer’s disease) proclaimed the awareness month to call attention to this tragic disease. Back then, fewer than 2 million Americans had the disease, today that number is 5.4 million. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US and the only one in the top ten that cannot be prevented, treated, or cured. If the trajectory of the disease is not changed, by 2050, nearly 14 million Americans will be affected by Alzheimer’s.
So what exactly is Alzheimer’s disease? I have been working in the field of cognitive impairment for over 15 years and the number one question I am asked is “What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?” The best answer I can give is that dementia is an “umbrella” term much like the term cancer. There are many types of cancer and there are many types of dementia as well. Perhaps the easiest explanation is this….everyone who has Alzheimer’s disease has dementia, but not everyone who has dementia has Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is, however, the most common type of dementia, accounting for around 70% of all cases. The hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss, particularly short-term memory loss in the early stages. Vascular dementia (strokes that impair the blood supply to the brain) accounts for around 10% of dementia cases, and then there are other forms of dementia you may have heard of like Lewy Body or Frontotemporal dementia. Dementia is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. It is important to note that Alzheimer’s disease is not a mental illness. It is a disease just as we know cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer to be physical illnesses. And while there is a certain extent of memory loss that is a normal part of aging, the memory loss and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are not a part of normal aging. Toward the end of this blog, I will list the ten warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease and attempt to differentiate between what is normal and what could be a red flag.
Why is this subject important to me? Aside from the huge public health and expense issue this presents for our country (and every other country in the world by the way), it affected my family personally. Three of our four parents in my immediate family were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease within a two year period. The disease changed everything for my parents, my family, and of course, for me and my priorities. My loved ones have now been gone for a few years, having lived for 16 years, 14 years, and 11 years with the disease. People ask me if I am relieved to be out from under the burdens of the disease. I tell them I am just warming up and will not rest until we find an end to Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, my quest is to help as many other families as possible who are dealing with this cruel disease.
A brief history of the disease
It might be a good time to switch gears and pause for a brief history lesson regarding Alzheimer’s. The disease was discovered in 1906 by a German doctor named Alois Alzheimer. He was presented with a 51 year old female we respectfully refer to simply as “Frau Auguste D.” Her husband brought her to Dr. Alzheimer’s clinic when she displayed irrational behaviors. Back then, it was usually, “off to Belleview for you” but Dr. Alzheimer was not buying it. He cared for her at his clinic until her death three years later and then discovered the disease during her autopsy. Without going into “Brain 101” too deeply in this blog, excess build-ups of two proteins (amyloid beta and tau) are present in Alzheimer’s patients. Now you may have the same reaction I have every time I tell the story of Frau August D…1906!!!!! What? It is 2015, why has this not been cured by now?
The disease is very complicated and it was only in the late 1980s that the scientific community realized that younger onset (diagnosis under 65) and regular onset (over 65) were the same disease. Several research and diagnosis breakthroughs have occurred in the past decade and while there is no treatment or cure that stops the disease as of today, I have never been more optimistic that a breakthrough is possible. Thousands of doctors and scientists around the world are working on the issue as we speak.
The high cost of the disease
You may not know that Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in our nation. This year, the cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients will be $226 billion (yes, with a “b”). $153 billion of that will be Medicare and Medicaid costs for care of Alzheimer’s patients. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 everyday, we must put an end to Alzheimer’s. 1 in 9 of us will develop the disease past the age of 65. Nearly half of us will have the disease at age 85.
The workplace stats are equally disturbing. 85% of caregivers under 65 are employed. Alzheimer’s disease costs American business more than $60 billion annually, both in costs related to care and in lost productivity. 60% of working Alzheimer’s caregivers report that they have had to come in late, leave early, or take time off. 20% had to take a leave of absence. 13% had to go from full time to part time and 15% had to give up working entirely.
So I mentioned that November is Alzheimer’s Awareness and Caregiver month. Who are these caregivers exactly? There are over 15 million of us in the US. This year we will provide more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care. You History Channel buffs might think that ice road trucking is the most dangerous profession on earth, but I would submit that caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia is the most challenging. Caregivers must navigate between making sure their loved one is protected from a variety of dangers (60% of Alzheimer’s patients will wander during their journey with the disease) and preserving their dignity. These are our parents, our spouses, our friends, and treating them like children is never appropriate although their behaviors may certainly test our patience.
As the person moves through Early, Middle, and Late Stage Alzheimer’s, behaviors can become more and more challenging. Just as we caregivers learn to handle one behavior, it disappears and another one emerges. Caregivers take lousy care of themselves due to stress and worry. They balance medical, legal, financial, and family dynamic issues that are complicated and emotional. 74% of caregivers report being somewhat to very concerned about their own health. So…if you know a caregiver of a person with dementia, give them a hug in November, better yet, offer to help them pick up groceries, rake leaves, or treat them to a spa day; they will be eternally grateful.
You also may not know that women are at the epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease. 2/3 of Alzheimer’s patients are women. The prevailing thought has been that this is because women live longer than men and the number one risk factor is age. New studies are underway to further investigate whether there are other factors that may make women more predisposed to the disease. Over 60% of Alzheimer’s caregivers are women as well. Perhaps the most startling statistic is that a woman over 60 is twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as breast cancer.
10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s
So now…as promised and if you are still reading this!… what are the common symptoms or early warning signs of Alzheimer’s? The Alzheimer’s Association lists ten of them. I will mention them all briefly and give a few examples from my own family experiences.
- Memory loss – not just forgetting the name of some movie star in an old film, but the type of memory loss that disrupts daily life and causes people to live in “sticky-note-ville.” Alzheimer’s erases short-term memory first so recently learned information may not be maintained like it was before.
- Changes in planning and problem solving – We all mess up a detail now and then but we are able to adjust and work through the issue. Many early-stage Alzheimer’s patients do very well as long as they stick to a routine. When problems arise, however, their ability to compensate is limited.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks – We’re not talking about forgetting how to reprogram the thermostat and having to refer to the manual, we are talking about commonly performed tasks. An example would be my Mom who started taking 30 minutes to unload the dishwasher due to confusion.
- Confusion with time or place – We all forget what day it is occasionally but get ourselves back on track quickly. An Alzheimer’s symptom example might be someone who goes to the same activity each week but now cannot remember the route to take to get there.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships – In other words, Alzheimer’s patients do not see things the way we do. They may suffer from a lack of peripheral vision (which is why driving becomes an issue) and may not be able to identify how close an object is to them.
- Problems with speaking or writing words – We all forget a word occasionally but we are quick to substitute another one that makes sense in the context of our conversation. My Dad, however, would become very frustrated when he couldn’t think of any words to describe his watch or wallet.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps – We all lose things and if you find your lost keys in the pocket of the jacket you wore two days ago, that makes sense. If you find them in the freezer, that could be a sign that something is wrong.
- Decreased or poor judgment – We all make stupid decisions from time to time – to err is human as they say. But Alzheimer’s patients may lose the basic judgment to know when a scammer is taking advantage of them or they may buy an expensive item they simply can’t afford.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities – The person may be “hiding out” to avoid family, friends or work associates from noticing that they are having cognitive issues. We all “check out” occasionally but a noticeable difference in someone’s social interaction may be a cause for concern.
- Changes in mood and personality – We are not talking about the typical “set in my ways” or “you kids get off my lawn” type crankiness. We are talking about changes in a person’s demeanor that are significantly different and unusual compared to their baseline behavior.
It’s time to lift the veil on Alzheimer’s
I could write for hours on this subject (in case you can’t tell by now) but I want to close by urging anyone reading this who has a friend or loved one with warning signs to see a doctor immediately to discuss symptoms in the context of their overall health. Many people are hesitant to discuss the subject but there are three reasons to do so. First, it might not be Alzheimer’s at all, there are many other conditions that present symptoms that may be similar. Secondly, if it is Alzheimer’s, perhaps a clinical trial would be appropriate; the care during these trials is excellent and the scientific community really needs participants. And finally, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s allows the patient to express their wishes while they still can and it also allows family members to become knowledgeable about the disease, plan for the future, and learn the valuable caregiving skills they will need to maintain the highest quality of life for all involved throughout the journey. In other words, you want and need to know…no matter what.
I hope this information and my story helps draw attention to this disease and an appreciation for caregivers during the month of November. Please help spread the word during National Alzheimer’s Awareness and Caregiver month. And please know that we here at MINES and Associates recognize the family and workplace pressures of having a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Help, education, and coaching is available for employees who are balancing their responsibilities at home and at work.
And, oh yea, ski and snowboard season is upon us….be sure you and your friends and family wear helmets – your brain is your most precious and irreplaceable asset!
Associate, MINES and Associates
November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Caregivers Month
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and more than 15 million caregivers are providing their care. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease with no cure that is eventually fatal. The number one risk factor is age. 1 in 9 Americans will develop Alzheimer’s past the age of 65 and 1 in 3 will have Alzheimer’s disease by age 85. 70% of all cases of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is currently the 6th leading cause of death is the US.
With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day in the US, a “silver tsunami” is headed for our shores
Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in our country, costing the federal government $150 billion each year for patient care.
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. 2/3 of Alzheimer’s patients are women and 63% of caregivers are female.
The statistics are stark but there is hope!
Record numbers of cure and prevention clinical trials are underway. The U.S. adopted a National Alzheimer’s Plan in 2010 and research funding continues to increase.
Alzheimer’s is a huge productivity issue for American business and industry
Alzheimer’s disease costs businesses $61 billion per year. 81% of caregivers under the age of 65 are employed. 55% of primary caregivers are caring for aging parents. Family caregivers provide $220 billion in unpaid care annually. The stress of balancing work and family for Alzheimer’s caregivers can be overwhelming. 74% of caregivers report being somewhat to very concerned about maintaining their own health.
Resources are available in your community
The Alzheimer’s Association is the nation’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Visit alz.org/co and follow the “In My Area” tab to find educational classes and support groups. A 24/7 helpline is available at 800.272.3900. All services are provided at no cost to families living with Alzheimer’s disease.
During November, make a point of learning more about this heartbreaking and costly disease. Investigate workplace and community resources. And if you are an Alzheimer’s caregiver, reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association for help in learning to take care of yourself, not just during Caregiver Awareness month but every day of every month. Caring for yourself is the key to achieving the best quality of life for both you and your loved ones throughout your family’s Alzheimer’s journey.
To your health and wellbeing,
– The MINES Team