June has been designated as Alzheimer’s and Brain Disease month by the Alzheimer’s Association to raise awareness about warning signs of Alzheimer’s and its impact on quality of life. June 21, the summer solstice, has been given the title of “The Longest Day” and is a time to honor those affected by Alzheimer’s.
Dementia is a disease with a cluster of symptoms that include impairment of memory, communication, concentration and judgment. Approximately 60-80 percent of those diagnosed with dementia have the Alzheimer’s form of this disease.
Worldwide, it is estimated that over 47 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. In the United States, someone develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds, and it is anticipated that the disease rate will increase from its current 5.5 million to over 14 million by 2050.
Risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s include age, genetics, and family history. Race may also be a factor: Rates of Alzheimer’s in older African Americans are double and in Latinos one and a half times more likely when compared to older Caucasians. Gender also seems to play a role: Approximately two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are female.
The Alzheimer’s Association has identified 10 early signs of dementia. These signs include:
- Memory loss that interferes with daily functioning
Long-term memory may not initially be impacted, but the inability to learn and recall recent information is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s. Occasionally forgetting appointments or names but later remembering them is more typical of normal aging.
- Challenges in planning and problem solving
A decline in the ability to complete tasks, such as paying bills or following directions, may be a sign that you or your loved one need to be evaluated. Occasionally, difficulties in planning or problem solving are fairly common.
- Decrease in the ability to complete routine tasks
Examples of areas that may be impacted include getting lost when driving to familiar places, forgetting how to turn on a commonly used appliance or inability to perform work-related activities. It is not unusual to occasionally forget how to set the time on your microwave or set a television to record a show.
- Confusion about time or place
Losing track of time or where you are can be an indication that there is a decline in mental status. As the disease progresses, the individual may not know who they are or who you are.
- Vision problems
Increased difficulty with reading, color and contrast and judging distances can sometimes be associated with Alzheimer’s. There are a number of other conditions that lead to impaired vision such as cataracts or glaucoma. It is important to get regular eye exams as part of your routine health maintenance. If you have concerns about your vision, schedule an appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist who can evaluate to determine the cause of vision loss and treat as needed.
- New problems with communication, verbal and/or written
Frequently forgetting a word, or calling things by the wrong name is another area that may be concerning. With those experiencing dementia, they may forget what they are saying in the middle of a conversation or repeat themselves. An occasional struggle with finding the right word may be age-related.
- Forgetting where you placed an item and being unable to retrace steps to find it
Sometimes a person with dementia will place objects in an unusual place and forget where it is. They may also accuse others of stealing from them. This is different from misplacing an item and being able to retrace steps to find it.
- Decline in judgement or decision-making skills
Making silly and irresponsible decisions that are a departure from their usual judgement can be a sign for concern about yourself or your loved one. There can be a decline in making decisions about money and finances that can make them vulnerable to being taken advantage of financially, as by telemarketers. There may also be a decline in cleanliness and grooming activities. The critical factor here is that there is a behavioral change from routine functioning.
- Withdrawal socially
A person experiencing dementia may begin to lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed like watching a sports show, hobbies, and social interactions. Being afraid that others will notice the problems that they are experiencing may lead to withdrawal from friends and families. We all have needs to be alone sometimes, which is not indicative of a problem.
- Changes in mood or personality
There may be increased suspiciousness, depression, anxiety or irritability. Approximately 40 percent of those diagnosed with dementia experience depression. In some cases, there may be an increase in agitation that is a departure from their normal status.
If you or your loved one is experiencing any of the 10 warning signs discussed above or if you have concerns about your mental health, you need to be evaluated by your medical provider.
Although there is no cure, there are some medications that can assist with some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Lifestyle changes designed to help you take better care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually can help determine how you live with this disorder.
Exercise, good nutrition, restful sleep and managing chronic health conditions are ways to take care of yourself physically. Minimize your alcohol use. If you smoke, stop now. Your primary care provider can educate you about resources that will assist you in stopping the use of tobacco products.
Having a supportive loved one such as a partner or family members with whom you can share your feelings can help enhance your emotional health. A counselor, therapist or pastor are others that can offer support. Engaging in activities such as attending church services or connecting with a spiritual community can strengthen your sense of spirituality. Other ways to enhance spirituality include yoga, meditation, and connection with something greater than you are.
There are thousands of tribute events that occur nationally every year on the Longest Day, and everyone is encouraged to wear purple. For information about activities planned for Minnesota, go to www.alz.org/mnnd/in_my_community.
More information on dementia may be obtained from the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 help line, 1-800-272-3900; for ttd call 1-866-403-3073. Source: www.alz.org
For further information, contact Dr. Deirdre Golden, Director of Behavioral Health at NorthPoint Health and Wellness, 612-543-2705, or contact your primary care provider.