November bringing awareness to Alzheimer’s

Photo courtesy of Metro Creative Connection

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month – a time to recognize the over five million people in this country who have been diagnosed with the disease and to honor their caregivers. The goal is to educate and raise awareness on the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s and to find a cure.

The 2nd Annual Central Valley Alzheimer’s Caregiver and Wellness Conference will be held Friday, Nov. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Hall, Auditorium and Independence Room, located at 808 4th Street. ABC30 news anchor Graciela Moreno will be Mistress of Ceremonies. The program will be filled with practical insight and resources to empower caregivers, families and professionals. The cost is $25 for general or caregiver admission and $55 ($65 at the door) for professional admission. Lunch is included. For online registration, visit http://edconference.kintera.org/fresno2016. Deadline is Wednesday, Nov. 16. For more information, call the Alzheimer’s Association 559-753-8200.

Sharon and Bernie Stepanek, both of whom had parents with the disease, offer useful advice.

“If you live remotely from the situation, try to be supportive for the caregiver,” they said. “Everybody needs to work together; everyone needs to be kept in the loop.”

“Have fun, do good, end Alzheimer’s” is what the Alzheimer’s Association wants people to do when they express an interest in holding a fundraising event. Other ways of participating include becoming informed, participating in a Walk to End Alzheimer’s, make a donation to an Alzheimer’s Organization, or share your story or volunteer at an Alzheimer’s event. More opportunities are listed on the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America web pages.

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that slowly progresses with time and is the most common cause of dementia. It creates problems with memory, especially short-term memory, behavior and thinking, eventually interfering with day to day life.

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known, although accumulation of the protein amyloid in the brain is suspected to play a part. The biggest risk factor is aging, especially after 70. Research has also found genetic factors such as gene mutations can be a factor as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol.

Warning signs

The Alzheimer’s Association has information on the 10 main warning signs of the disease. It’s important to remember the difference in the degree of a common occurrence as opposed to an Alzheimer’s warning sign. For example, to misplace something is common; to forget how to use that item could be a warning sign.

  1.    Memory loss (forgetting important dates or events)
  2.     Difficulty performing familiar tasks (problems remembering the rules to a favorite game or driving to a familiar place)
  3.     Problems talking with others or writing (struggling to find the right words for items, names of people or places.)
  4.     Disorientation to time and place (losing track of the seasons, dates, and passage of time)
  5.     Poor or decreased judgment (poor hygiene or poor judgment when dealing with money or financial matters)
  6.     Vision problems (problems reading or judging distances)
  7.     Problems with solving problems or planning (problems tracking regular bills or following familiar recipes)
  8.     Misplacing things (putting items in unusual places and then not being able to retrace steps to find them again)
  9.     Changes in mood, personality, or behavior
  10.  Loss of initiative or withdrawal from social or work activities

Symptoms may be present in varying degrees of severity. There are many causes of dementia, so having the characteristic symptoms do not necessarily mean that a person has Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is a disease that can hide itself for ten years,” says Amy McClure, memory care co-coordinator at Orchard Park Senior Living.

Often signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends than to the person experiencing behavior changes. It is important  to see a doctor as soon as possible; an early diagnosis allows people with dementia and their families a better chance of benefiting from treatment. Alzheimer’s is diagnosed through a complete medical assessment utilizing a thorough medical history and specific tests.

Treatments

Although the onset of Alzheimer’s disease cannot yet be reversed or stopped, medical and non-medical treatments can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

For a limited time, medications may help lessen symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion. It is important the physician and pharmacist are aware of all medications being taken, including over-the-counter and dietary supplements, to avoid drug interactions.

Drug free approaches include changing the patient’s environment to provide a comfortable and secure setting, understanding behavior changes and providing opportunities for exercise and restful sleep.  

Prevention

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, evidence shows reduced risk of cognitive decline by incorporating key lifestyle habits:

-Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body.

-Use your brain, challenge your mind

-Don’t smoke; if you do, stop.

-Take care of your heart.

-Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit.

-Get enough sleep

-Staying socially engaged

Resources

You are not alone. If you have Alzheimer’s or are living with Alzheimer’s as a patient or caregiver, please remember, there is support.

You can visit Alzheimer’s Association’s website at alz.org or call their Helpline anytime: 1-800-272-3900. The Alzheimer’s Association is the trusted resource for reliable information, education, referral and support to millions of people affected by the disease. You can also use their virtual library, locate a chapter in your community or go to Alzheimer’s Navigator to create customized action plans and connect with local support services.

Valley Resource Center offers respite for caregivers and provides information and assistance on all aspects of care. Visit http://www.valleycrc.org/programs/caregiver or call 559-224-9154 toll free: 1-800-541-8614.