November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month
In 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan made November the designated month for National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Then fewer than 2 million Americans were diagnosed with this devastating illness that then and now destroys the lives of the people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the families who love and care for them. The impact is physically, emotionally, and financially draining on many levels. This cruel disease robs a sufferer of their personality, thinking skills, and memories until the person they were no longer exists.
Who is Impacted by Alzheimer’s Disease?
The estimated number of American’s living with an Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) diagnosis is 6.2 million aged 65 or older. Current projections estimate that by 2050, 12.7 million 65 plus-year-old Americans will have Alzheimer’s. These numbers only account for doctor-diagnosed patients. The reality is that more older Americans may have early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease while just existing amidst their family system without proper medical diagnosis and care.
Currently, Alzheimer’s Disease ranks as the sixth leading cause of all US deaths and is the most common form of dementia, with a range of 60 to 80 percent of all diagnosed dementia cases. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Alzheimer’s and other dementia deaths have increased by 16 percent. While there is no known cure for AD, there are lifestyles you can adopt and other steps to take that may help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) along with regular exercise is a great place to start. Limiting alcohol consumption and ultimately giving up smoking will also benefit your cognitive skills and promote a healthy, aging brain. Regular visits to your doctor to keep your blood pressure in check and receive cognitive assessments can also lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
What Preventative Measure Can be Taken Against Alzheimer’s Disease?
Maintaining meaningful relationships with friends to keep you feeling valued, connected, and at ease while living in an environment with purposeful activities and group excursions is also beneficial. Oral health and good gut bacteria can promote healthy long-term brain aging, so keep up with your routine dental and general physical exams. Healthy doses of caffeine may also delay memory decline but be sure it does not interfere with a healthy sleep pattern, blood pressure, or any medications you may take.
During the campaign for AD Awareness, you may participate in a memory walk or sponsor someone who does. Thousands of caring individuals come together to raise funds to both support the care of patients and the research for a cure. Or, you may directly donate money to research organizations and foundations that seek to understand AD and aim to develop new medications that can slow the effects of the disease if not find a cure.
Many people are now seeking out screening programs like the National Memory Screening Program, permitting you to answer a list of questions that may help you recognize if you or a loved one display symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. The series of questions will measure your thinking ability, language skills, and intellectual functions. While your doctor must thoroughly evaluate you for a proper AD diagnosis, this screening test is free. It can give you an idea if you have problem areas in your cognitive abilities.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s include age, lifestyle, genetics, and family history, with age being the most significant risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s. The percentage of people living with Alzheimer’s increases dramatically with age, and although the disease is becoming commonplace, it is not a normal part of aging. Sadly, even without a family history of Alzheimer’s Disease, you may still develop the disease.
Many cases of Alzheimer’s dementia often go underdiagnosed or unreported. Many Americans live with AD, whether receiving a doctor’s diagnosis or not, costing the sufferer, their family, and the US medical system. Absent a cure, by 2050, projected out-of-pocket costs in the US for healthcare, long-term care, and hospice care for Alzheimer’s and other forms of people living with dementia will reach 1.1 trillion dollars.
Alzheimer’s is by far the most expensive disease with which Americans must contend. The research community is hopeful that preventative measures or even ways to slow brain degeneration are achievable within the next ten years. Yet federal research funding is a fraction of the monies spent on other major diseases. That is why it is essential to educate yourself and plan for the possibility that Alzheimer's Disease will directly affect you or a loved one in the near term.
Finding a cure, preventing, and developing therapeutics to slow the onset of Alzheimer's Disease is of the utmost importance. November is a great month to become educated and involved in understanding just how severe and widespread this disease continues to be and what you might do to better the chances that you and your family remain healthy.
It is also the right time to begin planning for anyone that is effected by Alzheimer’s. I strongly encourage families that are dealing with this difficult disease to seek assistance from a Board Certified Elder Law and/or Life Care Planning Attorney as soon as possible. And if you are outside of Florida, please contact an experienced Elder Law Attorney and/or Life Care Planning Attorney (preferably one that is Board Certified in Elder Law) to assist you.
Jason A. Penrod is only the 20th attorney to be Board Certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is the founder of Family Elder Law (www.familyelderlaw.com) which has offices in Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Sebring, Florida.