Alzheimer’s – Mental Health Minute

By: Lisa Philippart
Does that word frighten you? Chances are, you or someone you know has or has had some form of dementia. I provided counseling services in nursing homes for many years, and have painfully watched as residents and their families struggled daily with this disease. November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, so I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some facts first, and then next time, my own personal thoughts on this difficult subject.

Let’s start with the statistics:

1. Alzheimer’s currently affects more than 5 million Americans and that number is likely to triple by 2050.
2. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and is climbing steadily.
3. Every 66 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.
4. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia.
5. Alabama ranks 17th in number of deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease as of 2014.

I know these numbers are sobering, but here are some facts you need to know:

1. Alzheimer’s is often not detected until the end-stage of the disease. Alzheimer’s generally follows a 14 YEAR course! This means that from the onset of the first symptoms until death, it is typically about 14 years, with the diagnosis being made in the 8-10 year time frame. So the symptoms go untreated and undiagnosed for 7 years, while the lesions spread throughout the brain.
2. Memory loss is not a normal part of aging. Unfortunately, many people resist medical attention because they fear being labeled or are misinformed to believe that Alzheimer’s can’t be treated. Regardless of the cause of the memory loss, addressing the problem early can improve the effects of treatments currently available.
3. Many Alzheimer’s drugs are more effective than you might think. Unfortunately, late detection has negative consequences. With early intervention, treatment can be provided for those with healthier brains, which will respond more vigorously. Obviously, those with an end stage diagnosis already have massive brain damage.
4. Alzheimer’s disease can be treated. And while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are plenty of treatment options. What this means is that preventing or slowing further brain damage is desirable to letting the damage spread without restriction. A good diet, exercise, socialization, and certain drugs can also help to preserve quality of life.
5. Better treatments for Alzheimer’s are on the way! The good news is that because of intense research over the past twenty years, insights about Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms and factors that increase risk are being discovered every day. Much has been learned and promising drugs are in clinical trials right now.
6. Taking care of your heart will help your brain stay healthy. The health of your brain is directly related to the health of your heart. This means that high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity all contribute to a greater risk of cognitive decline. Again, this can’t be stressed enough…good vascular health will help to improve cognitive vitality.
7. Managing risk factors can delay and even prevent cognitive problems later in life. Risk factors that can be controlled include diabetes, head injuries, poor diet, inactivity, and isolation.

So, why bother with Alzheimer’s awareness? Because it is a terrible disease that will destroy our aging society. Through education and stigma reduction, maybe more people will be willing to take a more proactive approach to early intervention. Please share this information with a friend and take care of yourself now.
Until next time…Lisa