By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
With June being Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month (ABAM), the Alzheimer’s Association Oklahoma Chapter wants to raise awareness for the millions of individuals, family members and caregivers who are affected by the disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging,” said Alzheimer’s Association Oklahoma Chapter President/CEO Mark Fried. “It is a fatal disease that takes away your ability to communicate, to recognize your family and friends and to care for yourself.”
As the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death, Alzheimer’s disease is the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
This month, the Alzheimer’s Association is highlighting information to help correct common misconceptions about the disease.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that attacks the brain, killing nerve cells and tissue. It affects an individual’s ability to remember, think and plan. Brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s may begin 20 or more years before symptoms appear.
Although age is the greatest known risk factor, the organization points out that Alzheimer’s is not a natural or inevitable part of aging.
Statistics show that from 2000-2013, the number of Alzheimer’s deaths increased 71 percent, while deaths from other major diseases decreased. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including over 62,000 in Oklahoma.
Many believe the disease manifests itself only through memory loss, however it can appear through a variety of other signs and symptoms
Experts from the Alzheimer’s Association have developed 10 key warning signs of the disease onset. The list includes memory loss, challenges in solving problems, difficulty completing familiar takes, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding visual images, new problems with words in speaking or writing, misplacing things, decreased or poor judgment, withdrawal from social activities, and changes in mood or personality.
African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to have Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Hispanics are one and one-half times as likely. In addition, more than two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women.
More than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, but only about half have been diagnosed. Only 45 percent of seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or their caregivers are aware of the diagnosis.
Staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet benefits the body and the brain. There is also evidence that people may benefit from staying socially engaged with friends, family and the community.
The Alzheimer’s Association has developed steps to reduce the risk of cognitive decline with 10 Ways to Love Your Brain.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the total national cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated at $236 billion a year, of which $160 billion is the cost to Medicare and Medicaid alone.
The Alzheimer’s crisis is felt not only by the more than five million people in the United States living with the disease today, but also by their more than 15 million caregivers, friends and family.
According to the 2016 Alzheimer’s Association Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, it is estimated that 250,000 children and young adults between ages 8 and 18 provide help to someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.
Oklahoma Alzheimer’s Association chapter offices are located in Ada, Enid, Lawton, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Education programs include caregiver counseling, support groups, information and referral.
The Association provides assistance to more than 310,000 callers each year, offering translation services in more than 200 languages. For more information, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.