I Remember... In the Beginning
"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose." -The Wonder Years
So now someone you know or someone you love is starting to forget, seems to have trouble driving, or is more careless with their dressing. Maybe they are forgetting the rules of the road or forgetting to turn down the correct street. Moreover, they may look at you with a blank stare as you talk to them about the shopping trip you both took the previous week. They are quiet, not because they don’t care or they are bored with your conversation but they honestly can't remember, and they are too afraid to admit that to you. They don’t want you to think they are stupid, and they are afraid to admit that the memory is gone. They are puzzled, they are afraid, what does this mean for the present and their future? They are very slowly forgetting their recent past - losing who they had been.
What is dementia?
Yes, dementia in any form, is a destructive disease. What is dementia? It is a brain disease where the nerve cells in the brain die from infection, stroke, trauma, lack of oxygen, or changes in the neuronal cell itself. There are over a 100 or so diseases associated with the clinical presentation of dementia. In the end, it simply means that there are fewer brain nerve cells, and they are making incorrect connections to each other. The brain itself can shrink or atrophy and with it, any thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are associated with the area of the brain that is affected.
Basic facts about Alzheimer's disease
Though dementia can come in many forms, this community focuses on a kind of dementia called Alzheimer’s disease. To understand the Alzheimer's disease crises we can review some of its statistics as compiled by the Alzheimers Association. Every 65 seconds someone develops the disease. There are 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer's. By 2050, this number will rise to 14 million. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death, and it kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In 2019, caregivers will have provided 18.5 billion hours of care valued at 234 billion dollars.
As you may have known, the prevalence of the disease in those less than 65 is low, about 1%. However, over the age of 65, the prevalence increases dramatically to about 10%. This number increases to 20% for those 75 and older and increases again to 40% for those 85 years and older. Alzheimer's disease is the cause of 60-70% of all dementia cases.
Diagnosing Alzheimer's early
Since the beginning, symptoms are subtle. Family members and close friends can miss the signs or deny them. Only about 15% of individuals with the disease ever get evaluated in the early stage of the disease. However, an early diagnosis can be helpful. If we know where the individual is having problems, we can help them manage their problem before it becomes a crisis. For example, the person who is slowly starting to forget how to get from one place to another in his car might need more regular help. We may need to consider finding them a driver or even beginning the discussion to drive in only very local areas. Early identification helps the family to understand the changes in behavior and judgment that are often early symptoms. Finally, it can help the families begin long-term planning as to where the patient will be cared for, who will be Power Of Attorney, and what will happen to their estate and other areas that may need to be addressed as the person progresses in their disease.
Finding support to help cope
So the person we know or the person we love who is standing alert, at the top of the mountain, and beginning to walk down that steep and rough slope. They need to know they are definitely not alone. Their caregivers can find many associations, websites, and groups where they can go for support.
Once the diagnosis is made, begin to learn more about the disease, and get involved with people who understand the disease. Additionally, get involved with people who know how to or are struggling to care lovingly for the person who is living the disease. It's a long, adventurous road, with much to learn but there is hope.
Do you have an in-home professional caregiver?