November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, a designation aimed at making the general public more aware of the disease and the scale of it among the U.S. population, and to at bringing to light potential care options for those affected. 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. At The Kensington, our team promises to love and care for your family as we do our own.
What is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month?
November was originally designated as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. It was done to help raise general awareness of the disease, and as a call to action to get people involved in both the recognition of the condition, as well as the levels of care that might be required for someone living from Alzheimer’s.
At the time of the designation, there were fewer than 2 million people in America who had Alzheimer’s 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.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Though research is ongoing, and knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease is increasing among both scientists and the general public, it remains a relatively poorly understood condition. As a neurodegenerative disease onset often seems gradual, but symptoms intensify over time. Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be the cause of as many as 70% 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. Current diagnosis is based on cognitive testing, with blood tests and medical imaging, which are performed to rule out other causes. Examination of brain tissue is the only source of a definitive diagnosis.
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 horticulture therapy and more!) 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.
In most cases the onset of the disease takes place after age 65, and about 6% of the population over 65 will be affected by it.
Recognizing the Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
The signs of Alzheimer’s disease are often similar to the normal aging process, but the severity of those symptoms are what are most important.
One of the more common early symptoms short-term memory loss – difficulty remembering even very recent events. As the disease advances, your loved one can begin to develop problems with speech, mood swings, behavioral issues, and disorientation. This is usually the point at which long-term care options are considered.
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.
Caring for a Person who has Alzheimer’s Disease
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 an attractive 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.
We know dealing with a new Alzheimer’s diagnosis or caring for a loved one with the disease can be extremely challenging, and we’re here to help. If you have questions about the care our team at The Kensington can provide, please don’t wait to get in touch with us. Our team would love to get to know you and your loved one. We understand each situation is different, and we have a breadth of resources and in-house expertise we would love to share with you along the journey of deciding if an assisted living and memory care community is the right fit for your family at this stage.