As November, National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, draws to a close, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reminding people that active medical management can improve the quality of life for individuals living with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia among older adults, affects parts of the brain that control thinking, remembering and making decisions. It can seriously impair a person's ability to complete daily activities.
It is estimated that as many as 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. Younger people may get Alzheimer's disease, but it is much less common than in older adults. The disease usually begins after age 60 and risk goes up with age. About 5 percent of men and women ages 65 to 74 have Alzheimer's disease. It is estimated that nearly half of those age 85 and older may have the disease.
Scientists do not yet fully understand the multiple factors that may contribute to Alzheimer's disease but known factors include:
Other potential factors include:
Some change in memory is normal as we grow older, but the warning signs of Alzheimer's disease are more than simple memory lapses. According to the National Institute on Aging, someone with Alzheimer's disease may experience one or more of the following signs:
If someone has several or even most of the signs listed above, it does not mean that he or she has Alzheimer's disease. For a complete list of common signs, visit the National Institute on Aging.
Consult a doctor when you have concerns about memory loss, thinking skills and behavior changes in yourself or a loved one. It is important for a doctor to determine the cause of memory loss or other symptoms. Treatable conditions that may mimic Alzheimer's disease include depression, drug interaction, thyroid problems, excess alcohol use, symptoms associated with certain vitamins, and dehydration.
An early, accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease helps persons living with the disease and their families plan for the future by providing:
Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, active medical management can improve the quality of life for individuals living with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.
For some people in the early and middle stages of the disease, drugs are available that may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time or help control behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's disease such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression.
Currently, the vast majority of individuals living with Alzheimer's disease are cared for at home by family members. In fact, an estimated 25–29 percent of caregivers of persons age 50 or older (8.5–9.8 million caregivers) provide help to someone with a cognitive impairment, a memory problem, or a disorder such as Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia.
Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease at home is a difficult task and can become overwhelming at times. Each day brings new challenges as the caregiver copes with changing levels of ability and new patterns of behavior. As the disease gets worse, people living with Alzheimer's disease often need more and more care.
In addition to understanding the challenges of caring for someone living with Alzheimer's disease, it is also important to note that caregiving has positive aspects. It is usually undertaken willingly and may bring personal fulfillment to family caregivers, such as satisfaction from helping a family member or friend, development of new skills and improved family relationships. Caregiving is receiving increased attention as an important public health issue.