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Alzheimer’s is epidemic of the 21st century

Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist

October 23, 2013

The Alzheimer’s Association: South Carolina Chapter merits recognition in Notes this week in support of their research to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease. The S.C. chapter serves the entire state through a network of local offices. Their mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.


Their vision is a world without Alzheimer’s disease.


The topic Alzheimer’s disease leads to questions such as Will I get it?, What causes it? and What can be done to prevent it? The key to longevity is not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind.


In search for answers and for a discussion this week, Sheila Lewis, Midlands area program director for Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina, discusses the facts that need to be known for better understanding about Alzheimer’s.


Before we even start, let’s discuss the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Dementia is the general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example of that. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.


Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among the people age 65 and older. It is the fastest segment of the population. Science estimates that 5.2 million people are living with Alzheimer’s today. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. It is the only one among the top 10 causes that cannot be prevented, slackened or cured.


Currently, there are about five million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease. There are estimated 200,000 individuals, age 65 and older, with Alzheimer’s disease. Among those, 1 in 9 has Alzheimer’s, and about one-third of individuals age 85 and older have the disease.


Every 68 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s. If you know someone who is an experiencing dementia symptom, consult a doctor. If there is something reversible or treatable, it is important that it be found right away.


Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, researchers are closer than ever before, and early detections can help those living with the disease find the information and services they need. The 10 warning signs are:


1. Memory loss. Forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia. A person begins to forget more often and is unable to recall the information later. Forgetting names or appointments occasionally is normal.


2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. People with dementia often find it hard to plan or complete everyday tasks. Individuals may lose track of the steps involved in preparing a meal, placing a telephone call or playing a game. Occasionally forgetting why you came into a room or what you planned to say.


3. Problems with language. People with Alzheimer’s disease often forget simple words or substitute unusual, making their speech or writing hard to understand. They may be unable to find the toothbrush, for example, and instead ask for “that thing for my mouth.” Sometimes having trouble finding the right word is normal.


4. Disorientation to time and place. People with Alzheimer’s can become lost in their own neighborhood, forget where they are and how they got there, and do not know how to get back home. Forgetting the day of the week or where you were going is normal.


5. Poor or deceased judgment. Those with Alzheimer’s may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or little clothing in the cold. They may show poor judgment, like giving away large sums of money to telemarketers. Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time is normal.


6. Problems with abstract thinking. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have unusual difficulty performing complex mental tasks, like forgetting what numbers are for and how they should be used. Finding it challenging to balance a checkbook is normal.


7. Misplacing things. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl. Misplacing keys or a wallet temporarily is normal.


8. Decreased or poor judgment. Making bad decisions once in a while is normal.


9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. Connect with others and maintain a social life, take a class.


10. Changes in mood and personality. Jog your mind by keeping it active and engaged to build reserves of brains cells and connections. You can do something today to protect your tomorrow.


What can private citizens do?


Join a cause today and keep the momentum of research, raising awareness about brain health going. Learn about Alzheimer’s disease and what you can do to reduce the risk and to take care of your aging body and mind. Walk in one of the 600 communities Memory Walks, our largest fund-raising event of the year.


Join our more than 35,000 volunteers who provide service critical to every program at one of our 300 local offices nationwide. Join the leading voice speaking out for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Through our united network of advocates in our nation’s capital we are urging lawmakers at all levels to increase funding for research, care and support.


The Alzheimer’s Association is donor supported. Your gift funds vital research and care programs, and there are many ways to give.