• Laurel Contributor

Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

by Luke Osteen

Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month is a reminder of the many ways to improve the quality of life for those suffering from dementia and those who love them.

The physicians and professionals of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital are reminding the public that this is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, or another form of dementia, the caregiving journey is not something you have to go alone.

When November was designated as Alzheimer’s Awareness month back in 1983, there were fewer than two million people in America who had the disease. Today, the number of people afflicted has reached nearly 5.4 million. As the population of the country continues to age, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is also likely to increase.

As a neuro-degenerative disease onset often seems gradual, but symptoms intensify over time. Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be the cause of as many as 70 percent of the cases of dementia. The progression of the disease can vary significantly from one person to the next.

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not well known. The most common cause is believed to be genetics, though there is some evidence supporting head injuries, depression and hypertension as other causes.

One of the biggest issues with early detection of Alzheimer’s disease is due to symptoms being confused for the normal aging process. For example, forgetfulness might increase as one ages – including occasionally misplacing things, forgetting names or partial information. Older adults may even experience what they feel is some degree of short-term memory loss. For the most part, these are all normal parts of aging, and not necessarily indicative of Alzheimer’s disease.

Contrarily, forgetting entire experiences, not remembering things later, and losing the ability to communicate or care for oneself could be signs of Alzheimer’s disease onset. It is always important to consult with a medical professional if you or your loved one suspect any cognitive or memory impairment.

Currently, there are no known treatments or therapies that can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Compassionate care and alternative therapies (like art therapy, music therapy, robo-pets, even gardening) can help manage and to some extent minimize symptoms for those with the disease. Exercise, proper nutrition, and thoughtful mental stimulation are also very important.

One of the most notable symptoms as the disease progresses into the advanced stage is passivity, or the loss of motivation. This may mean your loved one stops taking care of themselves and withdraws from family and social events. Mood swings can become more pronounced, to the degree that behavior becomes unpredictable and difficult to manage. As the condition moves into its final stages, basic body functions and abilities decrease – including difficulty swallowing.

This is one of the biggest challenges for families affected by Alzheimer’s disease, but fortunately not one they need to face alone. Since the disease is progressive, and often moves slowly in the earliest stages, families will frequently assume primary care responsibility for their loved one. However as the condition increases in severity, home care by unskilled family members can become increasingly burdensome, sometimes even leading to caregiver burnout.

As the disease progresses, considering long-term care options or residential care facilities becomes a possible option for many families. Not only will your loved one receive round-the-clock care and assistance with activities of daily living like eating, bathing, and dressing, but they’ll benefit from thoughtfully planned meals, engaging activities and socialization, and on-staff dementia experts who are trained to manage the most challenging behaviors and medical needs.

For all of these issues, consult your doctor or health care professional here on the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. They understand the unique burdens placed upon families whose loved ones are suffering from this dreadful disease.

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