According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 6 million Americans currently have this form of dementia. It’s also a figure that is expected to grow dramatically in the next few decades, which means that more residents of Anamosa and elsewhere should take the opportunity to learn more about it for the possibility that they or their families will be affected.
The purpose of the Alzheimer’s Association is to increase awareness and promote fund-raising for Alzheimer’s disease research at state and national levels. It also can give people information about what they could expect if Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia touches them and their family, including the possibility of needing a caregiver.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice has worked with many clients who experience the different stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Depending on how the disease progresses, clients may be on a spectrum from fairly lucid to completely unresponsive as their physical and mental processes become permanently disrupted.
Although there is a lot of research that continues to take place, there’s still a lot that’s unknown, including how the disease starts and why it affects some groups of people more than others.
There are also a variety of questions people have about Alzheimer’s disease and also some misconceptions. Which makes sense since much of the research about some of the affected brain activity has only taken place in the last decade. So people relying on outdated information may have different views.
Some of the more common misconceptions include:
- It’s not permanent. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease is very permanent, progressive, and ultimately fatal. There are multiple stages, and for some, it can advance in a few years. In other cases, it may take more than 20 years for it to fully progress. The symptoms also can’t be reversed due to the permanent decay and deterioration of material in the brain.
- It’s not a new disease. Though much attention has been given to Alzheimer’s disease in the last few decades due to increased research and more numbers of cases, the Alzheimer’s Association tells us scientists have been actually examining it since 1906. Dr. Alois Alzheimer studied an elderly patient who had memory loss, confusion, and other symptoms that we’d recognize today. After her death, he examined her brain and found it was unnaturally small and had an unexpected amount of deposits on nerve cells. He began studying the relationship between brain activity and those types of symptoms.
- You can’t slow it down. Although it is progressive, studies have shown that with effort, the rate of its advancement can be reduced. Some of the suggestions to slow things down involve improving diet and eating more “superfoods” (certain non-processed food that provides great health benefits), avoiding things like alcohol and tobacco, and getting regular sleep, which supposedly helps flush out toxins. Stimulating brain activity with new tasks like learning languages, doing puzzles, or playing music also can have benefits by basically helping the growth of brain cells. Though it can’t rebuild damaged ones, it can try to balance the decay by making new ones. Regular exercise can also help improve blood flow to the brain and body.
- You’ll forget everything and everyone. Memory loss is common but doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Disorientation and confusion are more common which could affect memories as well as emotions. People may still have vivid memories of people and situations from their past but may quickly lose track of what’s currently happening. They will be lucid, be aware of where they are but also not be sure how they got there or remember conversations. Some institutions even look for ways to stimulate certain sensory memories to trigger other connected memories, such as a certain smell or song.
- Everyone with Alzheimer’s disease must move to an assisted living center. A provider may make this suggestion for safety and security reasons, but family members and loved ones can also figure out ways to help someone stay in their home and avoid the stress of a new living environment. It may not necessarily be easy for someone with advanced dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, since there are safety and security considerations depending on what stage of Alzheimer’s someone is facing. This can include efforts to make sure they don’t wander away, hurt themselves or get confused. People with advanced dementia also might need supervision in different rooms of the house for safety reasons, such as a kitchen or bathroom. Regular home health or even a full-time caregiver may be able to make this possible and allow people to live independently.
November is a good opportunity to learn more about this medical condition. It’s Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, where people are encouraged to learn more. At the same time, various groups and programs that help people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families are invited to tell the community about their services and how they can help.
Supporters are also encouraged to wear purple ribbons or purple apparel. There also may be public events in local communities to increase awareness.