November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month
There are as many as 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). It destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, cognition and behavior. This disease affects not only the patient, but family and friends as well. It places great challenges on the caregiver with a wide range of pressures with physical, social, economic and psychological elements. Recognizing the symptoms, early diagnosis and planning can make some of these challenges more manageable.
Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age. Most of us notice some slowed thinking and occasional memory problems. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work are not a normal part of aging. They may be a sign that brain cells are failing. To do their work, brain cells operate like tiny factories. They take in supplies, generate energy, construct equipment and get rid of waste. Brain cells also process and store information. In Alzheimer’s disease, parts of the cell’s factory stop running well. Just like a real factory, backups and breakdowns in one system cause problems in other areas. As damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs well.
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that has no current cure, but treatments combined with the right services and support, can make life easier for millions of Americans living with this disease. No two diagnoses are the same, but Alzheimer’s can generally be broken-down into 3 stages. Stage one lasts 2-4 years leading up to diagnosis. The symptoms include recent short-term memory loss, losing personal items, confusion with time and/or place, difficulty handling money and poor judgment. Stage two lasts 2-10 years after the diagnosis and is generally the longest stage. The symptoms include increased memory loss, difficulty reading and writing, difficulty speaking and /or expressing thoughts, hallucinations and/or delusions and repeating statements. Stage three lasts 1-3 years and is generally known as the terminal stage. The symptoms include difficulty eating/swallowing, bowel and bladder problems, the inability to recognize family and friends, and the inability to communicate with words. Caring for someone with AD can be a difficult task because each day brings new challenges.
Planning for the care of an AD patient is a daunting task for the family. Learning about the disease, treatment options and care options are paramount to the overall well-being of the patient and their family. During the early stages of AD, the family, with education and training, can generally care for the patient. There are also agencies available to care for AD patients if the family is unable to do so, or if they just need a little extra help. During this time, the family should also be learning as much as they can about the different types of care settings as an option during the advanced stages. The type of facility chosen depends on the level of care needed. These facilities include assisted living (ALF’s), skilled nursing (SNF’s), and Alzheimer’s special care units (SCU’s). Visit the Assisting Hands Houston website for more information about in-home care assistance that is available to help you with your loved ones during this difficult time for your family.
The month of November is also a special recognition time for awareness of other diseases, such as: American Diabetes Month, National Epilepsy Month, National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and more. Visit the What Health website for a comprehensive list. It is also National Caregiving Month.