Special Guest Post by Marci Vandersluis
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness month. According to the 2015 Alzheimer’s facts and figures, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Every 67 seconds someone in the U.S. develops this disease. Sadly, it’s currently the only cause of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. This year alone, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $226 billion. Without the support of unpaid caregivers, which is estimated at close to $18 billion dollars, this figure would be doubled. One in three seniors will die from Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
Despite such sobering statistics, recent data indicates that while more than 90% of people with the most common types of cancer have been told of their diagnosis, only 45% of people with Alzheimer’s disease or their caregivers report being told of their diagnosis (Alzheimer’s Association). Therefore, it is imperative that health care providers and educators partner with organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association to help increase awareness of this disease, including becoming more familiar with the potential warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and where to reach out when guidance is needed.
The Alzheimer’s Association lists the following cognitive changes as potential warning signs that may require further evaluation:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Difficulty understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Note that these cognitive changes do not serve as a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is best to share these symptoms as soon as one is able with a physician, who may recommend further evaluation from a neurologist.
Early diagnosis can prove to be of benefit to both the individual and the physician, as it will enable greater opportunity for both to participate in a productive plan of care. Early diagnosis will enable the individual to take advantage of clinical trials and it can give all stakeholders time to learn more about the diagnosis and make joint, well-informed decisions about future preferences.
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging, and while there is no cure at this time, there are options to help support people and their loved ones as they enter the world of Alzheimer’s. If there are questions about cognitive changes, do not hesitate to schedule a physician’s visit. While at the appointment, provide a thorough and honest assessment of symptoms. It may also be of benefit to bring along a family member who can help participate in the discussion. Concerns or questions can also be addressed by contacting the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Marci Vandersluis BSW, LSW, CCM is a social worker at Graceworks Lutheran Services.