President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983. At the time, fewer than 2 million Americans had Alzheimer’s. Today, the number of people with the disease has soared to nearly 5.4 million. Alzheimer’s is a complex neurological disease that is the most common form of dementia and has directly affected approximately 1 in every 2 families
7 Facts You Need To Know
• Alzheimer’s is generally detected at the end-stage of the disease. On average, Alzheimer’s follows a 14-year course from the onset of the first symptoms until death. There is some variability across patients but 14 years is pretty typical. The more surprising news is that, on average, we diagnose Alzheimer’s in years 8-10 of that disease course. This means that for most patients, symptoms go undiagnosed and untreated for at least seven years, during which time the lesions spread through the brain and cause irreparable damage
• Memory loss is not a part of normal aging. Many people, including a startling number of physicians, incorrectly believe that memory loss is a normal part of aging. Improving the timeliness of diagnoses for Alzheimer’s is, in many ways, a problem that can be addressed through awareness and education
• Current Alzheimer’s drugs are probably more effective than you think. One of the reasons that current treatments are often deemed ineffective is because they are routinely prescribed for patients with end-stage pathology who already have massive brain damage. With earlier intervention, treatment can be administered to patients with healthier brains, many of whom will respond more vigorously to the recommended therapy.
• Alzheimer’s disease can be treated. Preventing or slowing further brain damage is preferable to letting the damage spread without constraint. Yet, many physicians, patients, and caregivers conclude that any treatment short of a cure is not worthwhile. While today it is true that we have no cure for Alzheimer’s, that does not mean there is no treatment. With a good diet, physical exercise, social engagement, and certain drugs, many patients (especially those detected at an early stage) can meaningfully alter the course of Alzheimer’s and preserve their quality of life.
• The Alzheimer’s drug pipeline is full. Through an intense research effort over the past 20 years, scientists have gained a lot of insight about Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms and about other factors that increase the risk for the disease. Much has been learned and some very promising drugs, based on sound theoretical approaches, are in FDA clinical trials right now.
• Taking good care of your heart will help your brain stay healthy. The health of your brain is very closely tied to the health of your body, particularly your heart. Researchers have shown conclusively that high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity all confer greater risk for cognitive decline.
• Managing risk factors may delay or prevent cognitive problems later in life. There are well-identified risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease that are within our power to manage. These include diabetes, head injuries, smoking, poor diet, lethargy and isolation. With greater awareness of these facts, we can imagine a world where diabetics take more care to control their blood sugar, where helmets are more prevalent in recreational activities that are likely to cause head trauma, where people smoke less and eat more fruits and vegetables, and where everyone makes a better effort to exercise and to stay socially engaged on a regular basis. While these facts may not be well known, they are all well proven!
Purple is the color for Alzheimer’s Awareness. During the month of November, show your support for Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and Go Purple with a Purpose!
Lutheran Home is a Lutheran Life Community empowering vibrant, grace-filled living across all generations. Visit online at LutheranHome.org.