By: J. Chevonte’ Alexander | @curlznpumpz
The color purple is used to distinguish the month of November as Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and Caregivers Month. President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983. At the time, fewer than 2 million Americans had Alzheimer’s; today, the number of people with the disease has soared to nearly 5.4 million.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and it has no known cause or cure. It slowly leads to memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, personality changes, disorientation and the inability to communicate. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and by 2050, as the U.S. population ages, this could increase to approximately 14 million. Nearly 47 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias worldwide, and this is likely to increase to more than 131.5 million by 2050.
“Dementia is the general category of conditions that cause brain failure, particularly short-term memory loss and the decrease in higher executive functions to the extent that the condition impairs the ability to function in society,” comments Peter Boling, M.D., professor of internal medicine and chair of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine. “Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia — the most common type. Other types include multiple strokes, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body and a variety of others. Some people have a combination of multiple types.”
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. There are some warning signs and symptoms.
People with Alzheimer's may:
- Repeat statements and questions over and over, not realizing that they’ve asked the question before
- Forget conversations, appointments or events, and not remember them later
- Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations
- Get lost in familiar places
- Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects
- Have trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations
One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
“People have described a scale of stages (FAST scale, with seven stages) that is now used mainly to define eligibility for hospice care near the end of the process of dementia.” says Boling.
People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. Some can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
Also, a person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in a different degree. If you notice any of them, please see a doctor.