Around the world, Alzheimer’s awareness is growing. More people than ever before understand the significant physical and emotional toll on individuals with the disease, care partners, family members and friends.
But it’s clear that stigma persists; two-thirds of people believe their fellow citizens have little understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, and inaccurate information continues to be a global problem.
To fight the stigma and promote awareness, September is designated as World Alzheimer’s Month. Along with the annual observation, individuals and organizations dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia also recognize Sept. 21 as World Alzheimer’s Day.
For World Alzheimer’s Month 2018, what should you know about this devastating disease?
It’s Not Part of ‘Normal’ Aging
At any age, it’s natural to forget a name or an appointment occasionally. As you age, you may find that forgetting a fact here and there becomes even more common. But it’s important to understand that significant memory loss is not a part of typical aging.
If you or a family member begin to have problems with memory — in addition to keeping track of conversations, planning, concentrating, judging distances, or maintaining a stable mood — consider consulting with your doctor. But avoid jumping to conclusions about your symptoms prior to getting a medical opinion; other conditions like nutritional deficiencies, urinary tract infections, depression and brain tumors can cause symptoms that mimic dementia.
In addition, your symptoms may be due to a variety of dementia other than Alzheimer’s. For example, vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. For individuals with Alzheimer’s, the condition typically begins slowly and progresses over an extended period of time.
New Technologies Offer Hope
So far, no cure exists for Alzheimer’s — and researchers have not yet found a way to slow the progression of the disease. However, treatments do exist to help with symptoms. In addition, a variety of new technologies are helping individuals with the disease, along with their care providers, better cope with the symptoms and daily challenges.
In recent years, the field of assistive technologies for Alzheimer’s has expanded significantly. Today, individuals with Alzheimer’s — and the people caring for them — can make use of innovations like reminder messages played at specified times for a person with dementia. Messages can prompt for tasks like taking medications or locking the front door at a specified time, and they can provide medical appointment reminders.
Clocks designed for people with dementia can differentiate between day and night, while a new generation of location tracking devices and alert systems can let care providers know if a person with dementia has moved out of a specified area. Another new technology can observe an individual’s use of electrical appliances and alert a care partner if an appliance has not been used or has been left on.
Modern technologies may even help with diagnosing dementia. A new iPhone app may detect early signs of the condition, Japanese researchers note.
Spotting Early Warning Signs Can Help
By recognizing the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s, you can begin to get treatment — and potential relief — for you or a family member.
One of the most frequently seen signs is memory loss, which can include forgetting names, places and other information that an individual has recently learned. Confusion about dates and seasons, along with problems completing familiar tasks, also can indicate the development of dementia.
In some cases, Alzheimer’s may lead to trouble with solving problems and planning, including working with numbers. This symptom can manifest as difficulty keeping up with financial obligations or following recipes correctly when cooking.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia also may misplace belongings and may even believe that others have stolen items from them. They also may experience changes in mood, judgment and decision-making skills, and they may have problems with vocabulary and word-finding.
You Can Be Part of the Cure
A cure for Alzheimer’s doesn’t exist — yet. But with the participation of volunteers of all levels of health and ages, researchers hope to change that. There are a variety of ways to get involved, including signing up with the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registration for news and information about preventive trials. In addition, you can connect with researchers and learn whether you meet the requirements to participate in research studies.
This World Alzheimer’s Month, you can help raise awareness about the disease by sharing information with friends and family members, and you can get involved to be part of the search for a cure.