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In light of the amount of attention this particular disease has been getting lately, we thought we should use a blog post to touch on the Alzheimer's epidemic. There is such a widespread wave of awareness going on throughout the media, that we thought we’d interject our own perspective. Here, you can find information about the disease, some interesting statistics, and ways that you can help!
Everyone knows that a nutritious diet, regular physical activity, social engagement and mentally stimulating activities make up the recipe for an all-around healthy human being. But did you also know that these ingredients may also decrease your risk of cognitive decline and help delay, or slow the onset of Alzheimer's disease? True story.
There is no known cure or cause yet, but scientists are vigorously studying the relationship between cognitive decline and vascular/metabolic conditions, including heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. They are also researching how the brain reorganizes it’s self when it is challenged in some way with new knowledge that it needs to relate to other memories/processes/habits that are already programmed in and file that information away. A better understanding the complexities of the brain can lead to a better understanding of how AD begins, and bring us one step closer to finding a cure.
What happens to the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient?
Quite simply put, plaques and what looks like stringy, tangled matter begin forming the areas of the brain that control learning and memory, and thinking and planning. This leads to the loss of connections between neurons in the brain and eventually the brain will actually begin to shrink and deteriorate over time. Unfortunately, damage to the brain usually begins about 10-20 years before symptoms even develop. There are many proposed causes to this disease: genetics, environmental, lifestyle, etc., but no one specific cause has been pinpointed yet.
How can you help?
Be aware: Spread awareness and learn how to help yourself and others who have, or are living with someone who has Alzheimer's disease. Did you know that 5.4 million Americans are living with this disease? In the year 2000, approximately 411,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s disease that arose. In the last 10 years this number has grown to 454,000 and is projected to continue to grow. Of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the only one that has yet to be prevented, cured or slowed.
Donate: Websites such as the American Alzheimer's Association (alz.org) and the American Health Assistance Foundation (ahaf.org) provide not only information about the disease, but also ways to help. There are products you can buy such as awareness bracelets, or mugs and such where part of the proceeds goes to Alzheimer's research. They also provide ways to learn how to be an advocate for the disease and find a walk near you that will benefit research. I have also seen stamps at the post office that benefit Alzheimer’s research, as well.
Be a proactive caregiver: Caregivers have an especially difficult task. Even though the result is inevitable, early detection of the disease can be extremely helpful. It will allow the patient and their family to prepare for the future. They will have adequate time to make living arrangements, sort out financial/legal matters, and develop support networks between friends and family. One of the best things you can do as a caregiver, is to stay well-informed and prepared. By developing good coping skills, and finding better ways to handle stress (e.g., staying physically active has both emotional and physical benefits), you can stay one step ahead of the game.
Also, there are tons of support groups that are out there to help Alzheimer's patients and their loved ones. They know how demanding caregiving can be physically, financially, and emotionally and can be an invaluable resource in finding assisted living facilities, sharing and learning about others' experiences, and getting tips on caregiving, among other helpful insights.
How can you make life easier on yourself and your loved one?
If you are living with someone with this disease, there are many things you can do right now to make the situation a little easier on this person, and yourself. For example, you can fall-proof the home. As Alzheimer's patients lose control of their body and sense of surroundings, falling can become an issue. If you’re worried about falls during the night, get a bed rail or an alarm for the bed. These tools will not only help prevent falls, but also let you know if one occurs so that you can help right away.
Also, incontinent care products can be a lifesaver. As an Alzheimer's patient loses control of their body, keeping them clean and dry can be difficult. If they have trouble finding the restroom, painting the door a bright color can help. Some people have found that the patient has an easier time remembering or communicating where the bathroom is or when they need to use it when the door is easier to recognize. Speaking of the bathroom, that can be one of the most dangerous areas of the house – everything has a hard surface and is frequently slippery. Equipping the tub and toilet area with bathroom aids, like shower benches, bath bars and toilet seats with handles, can help prevent the accidental slip and fall.