“I believe we’re dealing with Alzheimer’s.” Devastating words as you sit in the doctor’s office with your spouse. A friend shared her experience and then talked about leaving the office and not knowing which way to turn. What are our choices? Is there treatment? Do we need follow up appointments? After two weeks of being in shock (and wondering how much of this her husband actually understood), she began asking questions and trying to become aware of what they were dealing with. Your mom, your dad, a spouse, a grandparent — there are few people that don’t have a story. Your neighbor who used to love cooking elaborate meals now becomes overwhelmed just trying to choose her breakfast cereal. And the father of four from your church, who just celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary, can no longer recognize his wife or children. These people, along with their families, are all experiencing the devastating effects of dementia.
Bailey Wachholz, currently a junior at Brainerd High School and recently crowned Miss Minnesota Outstanding Teen 2012 quotes in her platform “When I was just 13 years old, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Just thinking about the reality that someday I will be asking him “Remember me?” instantly triggered feelings of fear and loneliness. Compounding my emotional fears was my lack of knowledge about this disease. Knowing this disease would remove the essence of my father’s life, I committed myself to getting educated, which allowed me to understand what was happening to him and to diminish my fears. With more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s today, it is inevitable that every person will be touched by this disease, children being no exception.”
If you or someone you love has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, you’re not alone. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias affect an alarming number of individuals worldwide, creating one of the most significant social and health crises of the 21st century.
• About 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, 96 percent of which are over the age of 65.
• By age 85, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease reaches nearly 50 percent.
• The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is projected to reach between 11.3 and 16 million people by 2050.
Be aware. Know what dementia is.
Characterized by memory loss and a cognitive decline that interferes with daily life, dementia progressively weakens a person’s thought processing ability, ultimately causing drastic changes in mood, behavior and memory.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Despite its prevalence, Alzheimer’s and related dementias are not a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s causes irreversible changes to the brain that result in problems communicating, thinking, and taking care of basic needs. Symptoms vary as the disease affects each person differently, but individuals with Alzheimer’s inevitably advance through increasingly debilitating stages, requiring progressively more intense levels of care.
Be aware. Recognize the signs.
Knowing some of Alzheimer’s warning signs can help you identify when changes taking place in your loved one go beyond typical age-related changes and may signify the effects of brain disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, occasionally misplacing items, temporarily getting confused, or forgetting someone’s name but remembering it later are all typical age-related changes. Signs that point to Alzheimer’s may be similar but more severe, including:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
• Changes in planning or solving problems.
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
• Confusion with time or place.
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
• New problems with words in speaking or writing.
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
• Decreased or poor judgment.
• Withdrawal from work or social activities.
• Changes in mood and personality
If you observe one or more of these 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s in your loved one, please talk to a medical professional.
Be aware. Get educated.
Look for opportunities to learn. Not only those affected, their families, or senior care providers need to be educated. Every person in our community should be aware. The teller in the bank needs to recognize unusual confusion in their long time customer. The waitress at the restaurant needs to understand offering simple choices when they recognize the inability to make decisions. The clerk in the clothing store needs to be able to offer basic assistance in getting around the store. The policeman needs to be aware that the man out walking on the street may just be confused and not be able to find his way home. We need to work together to be aware of those around us that are affected by dementia and related illnesses.
A local opportunity to learn will occur from 3:30-7:30 p.m. May 15 and from 7:30-11:30 a.m. May 16. The Alzheimer’s Association and Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates (community group formed to generate awareness of dementia and other related diseases in our community) will be sponsoring the “Forum for Dementia Awareness and Education.” It will be held at Central Lakes College and will be a wonderful opportunity to hear a variety of speakers including keynote speaker, Dr. Terry Barclay, a neuropsychologist at Regions Research Center in Minneapolis who will be speaking on Living Well with Alzheimers. Other breakout sessions include information regarding testing for memory loss, tools for caregivers, communication with your loved one, the basics of the disease, teen perspective on Alzheimer’s by Bailey Wachholz, and many other topics. Attend this forum for $10. Contact Kori Buscho at CLC at 855-8139 or (800) 933-0346 extension 8139 for more information and to register for the event.
Get involved with the Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates (LAMAA) group. Meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month at 8 a.m. at Good Samaritan – Woodland campus, 100 building. Anyone interested is welcome,
Explore the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org or call their hotline at (800) 272-3900.
Support the cause by becoming an advocate for legislative changes, or donate to research by giving to your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s (Brainerd Lakes Area Walk to be held on Sept. 22 at the arboretum).
For more information about local Support Groups contact Pam Wachholz at 831-3562 or Deb Cranny at 824-0077.
Contact any of your local senior care providers such as home care agencies, senior living campuses, hospitals and clinics to direct you to information regarding dementia and related diseases.
It Is all about awareness. Help this community to be dementia ready and support those affected by the disease and their families. The end to Alzheimer’s begins with you.
DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.