Alzheimer’s: What you need to know
A new case develops in the U.S. every 65 seconds.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month. On June 21, 2018, the longest day of the year as well as the summer solstice, thousands of people will join together locally and nationally to honor those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that as the number of older Americans grows rapidly, so too will the numbers of new and existing cases of Alzheimer’s. As it stands now, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. The disease kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined and is the only top 10 cause of death in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
One of the most recognizable symptoms of Alzheimer’s is forgetfulness. But not all forgetfulness is created equal, so when should you seek help for yourself or someone you love?
“Cognitive change due to aging, such as forgetting names, is normal and not necessarily a reason to worry,” says Dr. Edward Soll, radiologist and advisor at Doctor’s Imaging. “While your brain does change as you age, it’s important to know the signs and what part of the brain should be intact at each age. In addition to normal aging, medications, sleep problems, depression, anxiety and alcohol can also alter someone’s memory.”New Technology Assisting With Diagnosis
Doctor’s Imaging in Metairie helps patients determine if their memory losses are due to Alzheimer’s or other factors in part with NeuroQuant analysis technology — FDA cleared software that is part of the routine MRI protocol Doctor’s Imaging uses to evaluate the brain micro-structure. “We use the NeuroQuant analysis when making clinical assessments of memory change and memory loss which may be caused by changes in brain anatomy,” Dr. Soll said. “This technology aids in the diagnosis of non-Alzheimer’s dementia and when Alzheimer’s is ruled out, it lets doctors look for what is causing the memory loss.”
What are the signs of Alzheimer’s? Dr. John Freiberg, neurologist with the Tulane Center for Clinical Neurosciences, says that recurring short-term memory loss is a red flag, along with making mistakes that are not normally made – for example, mistakes while paying bills, balancing a check book or successfully completing recipes. Other concerns can be a limiting of activities or loss of activity level, behavior changes, depression, and loss of hygiene routine and physical upkeep.
“People with Alzheimer’s demonstrate symptoms like forgetfulness that lead to things such as problem-solving difficulties, multitasking issues, struggles to use regular household items, becoming easily distracted and personality changes,” says Colleen Knoop, nurse practitioner at Ochsner Medical Center’s department of neurology. “Generally speaking, these symptoms won’t start showing up until 65 years or older, but someone can have early onset dementia that can lead to Alzheimer’s.”
If a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, an array of resources are available, among them The New Orleans Jewish Community Center, which hosts an Alzheimer’s Care and Enrichment Program three days a week from 10 a.m. to noon.
“The program offers these individuals a community of their own and a place to engage with one another,” says program director Allison Freeman. “We try to enrich their experience with a wide range of activities, such as coffee time, exercise, music therapy, group activities like making lunch together, arts and crafts, and board games. We also consider family members to be part of the effort, so this program gives them a chance to breathe, take some time for themselves and just take a break from caregiving for a few hours.”
The JCC program is designed to be an intimate setting, and as such is limited to 12 people at a time who receive individualized, attentive care.
“We have both staff members and volunteers on site and are a social model instead of a medical model,” Freeman says. “We try to incorporate arts into the program as much as we can through music and poetry because this is a good way to connect with Alzheimer’s patients in that it provides a way for them to express themselves without words.”
Staying active is also important with those afflicted by the disease.
“Exercise has shown to be beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s because it slows cognitive decline,” says Dr. Freiberg. “Also, a good diet and proper nutrition can be beneficial as well as avoiding alcohol and drugs and keeping a regular sleep schedule.”
Ochsner Medical Center is also fostering a new program through its Brain Health and Cognitive Disorders Program, which is being tailored to Alzheimer’s patients.
“Our program is for the patient, as well as the caregiver,” Knoop said. “We provide tips on how to deal with the patient, have representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association come and talk, and basically offer resources on what comes next for the family. We are currently running two to three times a month. It has been so helpful to have this time for the families and help them to not feel so alone.”Caregivers Need Care Too
Alzheimer’s can take a toll on the entire family of any person diagnosed with the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association cites that compared with caregivers of people without dementia, twice as many caregivers of those with dementia indicate substantial emotional, financial and physical difficulties. Approximately 83 percent of the help provided to older adults in the United States comes from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers. Nearly half of all caregivers who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
“When dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it’s a good idea to be flexible, respectful and remain as calm as possible,” Knoop said. “Try not to take anything personally. Remember it is the disease, not the person, that may be acting out.”
“It’s a good idea to look for a great day care or assisted facility so as a caregiver you can get some time to relax and be mentally rested,” says Dr. Soll. “It’s a difficult time for the family, the later stages can be heartbreaking and there can be anger in the early stages.”
“Some insurance carriers might cover respite for the caregiver and allow for admitting the loved one into a facility for a week or two or for support groups,” adds Dr. Freiberg.
Alzheimer’s is deadly and on the rise.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and the fifth-leading cause of death among those age 65 and older. It is also a leading cause of disability and poor health.
Although deaths from other major causes have decreased significantly, official records indicate that deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased significantly. Between 2000 and 2015, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease (as recorded on death certificates) increased 123 percent, while deaths from the No. 1 cause of death, heart disease, decreased 11 percent.
Among people age 70, 61 percent of those with Alzheimer’s are expected to die before the age of 80 compared with 30 percent of people without Alzheimer’s.
Source: The Alzheimer’s Association
WHAT ARE YOUR CHANCES
According to the Alzheimer’s Association (ALZ.org), an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2018. This number includes an estimated 5.5 million people age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
One in 10 people age 65 and older (10 percent) has Alzheimer’s dementia.
Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
Older African-Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as older whites.
Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as older whites.