November marks Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness and show support for the millions of Americans living with Alzheimer’s, a type of degenerative brain disease that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities that interfere with every day life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a leading health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research, Alzheimer’s accounts for 60%-80% of dementia cases. In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered this disease in a woman who showed symptoms of memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behaviors. After her death, he examined her brain and found abnormal clumps and tangled bundles of fiber, now respectively known as plaques and tangles. Little is still known about the cause of Alzheimer’s, but advances in research continue to be made every day.
Alzheimer's Awareness Month
Alzheimer’s is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S right behind heart disease, cancer, accidents (unintentional injuries), chronic lower respiratory diseases, and strokes. It is the 6th leading cause of death among U.S. adults, and 5th leading cause of death among adults age 65 years or older. In 2021, an estimated 5.8 million Americans aged 65 years or older had Alzheimer’s, and this number is projected to triple to 14 million by 2060. Currently, age is the best known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, but other factors such as genetics can also play a role in developing the disease.
This Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association compiled a list of 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These include: (1) memory loss that disrupts daily life; (2) challenges in planning or problem solving; (3) difficulty completing familiar tasks; (4) confusion with time or place; (5) trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships; (6) new problems with words in speaking or writing; (7) misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace steps; (8) decreased or poor judgment; (9) withdrawal from work or social activities; and (10) changes in mood and personality. Although some of these signs and symptoms can manifest in any aged person, the Alzheimer’s Association compares examples of Alzheimer’s and typical age-related changes to differentiate what may be signs of Alzheimer’s from what is normal.
To illustrate the difference between Alzheimer’s and typical age-related changes, a typical age-related change could be making a poor decision once in a while, but a person with Alzheimer’s may show consistent poor judgment and decision making. Another typical age-related change could be sometimes forgetting which word to use, while someone who has Alzheimer’s may have difficulty having a conversation. The key difference to recognize is the frequency something occurs. It is normal for someone to make a poor decision, forget a word, or even miss a monthly payment; however, if this behavior persists, this could be a sign of the development of Alzheimer’s.
If these signs and symptoms are noticed in yourself or someone you know, don’t ignore them. If Alzheimer’s is detected early on, you may be able to explore treatment options, maintain independence longer, and participate in clinical drug trials designed to advance Alzheimer’s research and help find a cure. There are also preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s such as exercising, following a nutritious diet, limiting alcohol use, and quitting smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research states that healthy behaviors, which have been shown to prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, may also reduce risk for subjective cognitive decline.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a Colorado Chapter with locations across the state including Colorado Springs, Denver, and Pueblo, which provides resources and support for Coloradans living with Alzheimer’s, their loved ones, and caregivers. The organization offers care consultation, free and paid classes and training, support groups, early-stage programs for those in the early stages of Alzheimers, and volunteer opportunities. If you are interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s as someone living with the disease or caring for someone with it, you can reach the Alzheimer’s Association’s Colorado Team by submitting an information request. For immediate help, advice, or service, the Colorado Team can be reached via its 24/7 Helpline at (800) 272-3900.