Alzheimer's Disease Touches All of Us

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Filed Under: Heart Health, Mood & Memory
Last Reviewed 05/22/2014

Alzheimer’s disease affects all of us, whether it happens to a beloved family member, a dear friend, or a valued co-worker. My family is no exception. Alzheimer's candle lighting

In the summer of 2010, my wife Jan took her mom to a geropsychiatry specialist to assess her memory (“Gero” for aging). Mom, then 90 years of age, has been complaining about her failing memory…and we, her family, have been noticing it too. We were all hoping that mom was just showing signs of age-related cognitive decline. 

In actuality, Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, or loss of intellectual function, for folks over 65.  And for those over 85 years of age or more, the risk is 50 percent.

I was saddened to read the 2010 statistics at www.alz.org. They estimate 5.3 million Americans live with Alzheimer's disease; 5.1 of them are 65 or older, and another 200,000 are under 65.

Younger onset Alzheimer’s can affect people who are only in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. It breaks my own heart to read the staggering statistic that every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain's nerve cells, or neurons, and causes memory loss, as well as behavior change.

Though many of us may not have heard of it until just a few decades ago, Alzheimer's disease was first understood back in 1906 by German physician Alois Alzheimer, MD. At a medical conference, Alzheimer presented a case history of a woman who was only 51 years old, but suffered from a rare brain disorder. At her autopsy, the plaques and tangles that we now know characterize Alzheimer's disease were first identified.

My mother-in-law's assessment confirms her, and our, concern that her memory is not what is used to be, and we have observed that it continued to fade with each passing month. That’s why we began four years ago to plan interventions to help keep her safe in her daughter's house while other family members are out working. Of course I placed her on every brain nutrient in my arsenal.

In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, as well as National Family Caregiver Month, I thought I’d share some of the internet resources I’ve found, so those of you who have similar concerns can find help more easily:

Now, it's 2014 and mom is approaching her ninety-fourth birthday. Her family finally had to come to terms with getting assistance for her care and safety a little over a year ago. Mom has her own, small "apartment" in a small community within the safely sequestered, yet homey, memory care unit of an excellent family-centered extended care facility. It's close to her home and central for all of her children and grandchildren to visit daily. The atmosphere is more like a "home" than a hospital. Because of her cardiac history and symptoms, Mom more likely has vascular dementia than the Alzheimer's type. But sadly, both are progressive. 
 
The 2014 reported statistics remain the same, and expected to worsen by 2050. Of Americans over 65 living with Alzheimer's, almost two-thirds are women. While after age 65, a women's risk for breast cancer is an alarming 1 in 11, her risk for Alzheimer's dementia is even worse: 1 in 6.  So, the best thing you can do is to know your risk factors and do as much as you can to limit them.
 
Yes, dementia touches all of us. If it affects yours, we'd love to learn some helpful pointers from you, too.
 
Now it's your turn: Has dementia touched your family?
 

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