According to the World Health Organization, President Ronald Regan declared Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in 1983, the same year Alzheimer’s affected approximately two million people. Today, Alzheimer’s affects more than six million people.
According to Whitehouse.gov, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation on Oct. 29, declaring November 2021 National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
It cost about $300 billion in 2020 to treat those with Alzheimer’s. The President has asked Congress to fund a new program called Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, hoping to accelerate research on detecting, testing and curing diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. It is the result of complex changes in the brain, starting years before the symptoms appear. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that presents with memory loss and declining cognitive abilities.
Due to changes in diagnostic protocols, the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s has increased. One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. In Highland County, about 1.4 times more women die from Alzheimer’s than men. Approximately 96 percent of people over the age of 65 are living with some degree of Alzheimer’s.
A person can live an average of three to 10 years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, sometimes up to 20 years. Alzheimer’s becomes progressively worse over time. Early onset can develop in a person in their 30s, 40s or 50s. Currently, Alzheimer’s is not curable. Treatment just slows the process down.
During the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may have memory struggles and impaired ability to accomplish everyday tasks independently. They may have difficulty using the phone, shopping, cooking, housekeeping, taking medication and managing their finances.
At the moderate stage, a person demonstrates impaired judgement and confusion more frequently. A person could present with behaviors such as wandering, repeated questioning and suspicion of others. The person may need more assistance with self-care and multi-step tasks.
In the severe stage of Alzheimer’s, a person becomes unaware of their environment, loses the ability to carry on a conversation and requires daily assistance with personal needs. The person may also lose the ability to swallow.
If you are helping someone with Alzheimer’s, remember to keep a daily routine, keep things simple by breaking tasks into one step at a time. When speaking to someone with Alzheimer’s, speak to them at eye level, be reassuring and do not try to correct them. Validate what the person is saying. Most of all, don’t take their behavior personally.
Highland District Hospital has an Alzheimer’s support group that meets on the third Monday of each month. A memory walk was held in October and any donations made through Dec. 31 will go towards this year’s walk. The funds help with research and further care for those battling Alzheimer’s.
Resources for this story included act.alz.org, whitehouse.gov, alzheimers.gov, seniorliving.org and stories.livestories.com/statistics.
Jackie Wolgamott is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.