Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.  At the time, fewer than 2 million Americans had Alzheimer’s; today, the number of people with the disease has increased to nearly 5.4 million, including over 200,000 under the age of 65. It is estimated that by the year 2050, 16 million people will have the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 67 seconds. The Association also reports that the reported cost of the disease in 2015 is $226 billion and that nearly one in every five Medicare dollars is spent on people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

 
Scientists have characterized risk factors that increase the onset of Alzheimer’s.  They are age, family history, and heredity – none of these things can be changed, however, there is emerging evidence that other factors may be the cause as well, that we can change. Research is starting to show that general lifestyle and wellness choices, and effective management of other health conditions, also have influence on developing the disease. The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, as nearly one in three people age 85 or older has the disease.  Someone who has a parent, brother, sister or child with Alzheimer’s is more likely to develop the disease as well.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are two types of genes (heredity) that play a role in affecting a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s – risk genes and deterministic genes.  Risk genes increase likelihood of developing a disease, but do not guarantee it will happen. Scientists state that 20 to 25 percent of Alzheimer’s cases are due to this gene.  Deterministic genes directly cause the disease, guaranteeing that if you have the gene, you will develop the disease. Scientists claim that less than 5 percent of cases are caused by this gene.

There is a strong link between head injuries and future risk of Alzheimer’s as well, particularly when head trauma occurs repeatedly or involves a loss of consciousness. Research also supports the link between brain health and heart health in proving the brain is nourished by the heart. Science tells us that every heartbeat pumps 20-25 percent of your blood to your head, and brain cells use at least 20 percent of the food and oxygen the blood carries.  Risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia increase when a person develops conditions that damage the heart and blood vessels such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

The Alzheimer’s Association encourages everyone to know the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, as early detection is important.  The 10 warning signs are:
  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure.
  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 things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  8. Decreased or poor judgement.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  10. Changes in mood and personality.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging.  Currently, there is no cure, but treatments are available. Current treatment does not stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, but it can temporarily slow down the symptoms and improve the quality of life for those suffering and their caregivers. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, consider using the 24/7 Alzheimer’s hotline at 1-800-272-3900 or for additional resources, visiting their website at www.alz.org.