By Regina Molaro
It could be a call from the local police department telling you they’ve picked up your father driving aimlessly through a neighboring town. Maybe it’s discovering Mom has been writing checks for unsolicited requests that arrive in the mail, believing they are her unpaid bills.
It’s not when they call people by the wrong name that’s so concerning, but rather the medication sitting untouched in the pill box or the prepared meals uneaten.
As seniors age, many will develop issues with memory, problem-solving and language. Defined as dementia, this affects a person’s personality and causes changes in behavior. Beyond wandering or getting lost, people with dementia often have difficulty completing everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning or paying bills.
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. A progressive brain disorder, Alzheimer’s impacts memory, thinking and language skills, and the ability to perform simple tasks. The nonprofit organization cites that there are more than 6.2 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.
“My biggest challenge with my mother is battling her depression,” said one woman whose family has been affected by Alzheimer’s. “Her personality continues to change. She often gets confused and forgets to eat, so I am constantly monitoring her.”
It’s important to note that dementia itself is not a disease, but a term used to describe the symptoms, which include loss of memory and/or judgment, and other intellectual functions. Alzheimer’s disease can cause dementia. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, treatments do exist and education about the disease and treatments can help manage it.
“Knowledge is a useful and powerful tool that can help make any situation easier to navigate, especially something as challenging as caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Charles J. Fuschillo Jr., president and CEO of AFA, whose mission is to provide support, services and education to individuals, families and caregivers affected by the disease and related dementias nationwide and to fund research for better treatment and a cure.
World Alzheimer’s Day
Sept. 21 marks World Alzheimer’s Day, which presents a global opportunity to raise awareness, educate others, provide support and demystify dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit organization, about 1 in 9 people aged 65 and older (10.7%) has Alzheimer’s. Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women, and older Black Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older Caucasians.
Alzheimer’s also claims the lives of more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined: 1 in 3 seniors dies with the disease or another form of dementia.
According to AFA, brain health is something everyone can – and should – be proactive about. Lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, proper sleep and learning new things can all help maintain and improve cognition.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is memory loss – especially of recent events, names, places and other new information – along with confusion about time and place.
Other warning signs include struggling to complete familiar tasks such as brushing one’s teeth; difficulty finding appropriate words in a sentence; challenges in judging situations; and changes in mood and personality.
The AFA follows the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging in describing the disease in three stages, which include early (mild), middle (moderate) and late (severe).
In the early or mild stage, people may forget words or misplace objects; may forget something they just read; ask the same question over and over; have increasing trouble making plans or organizing or remembering names when meeting new people.
In the middle or moderate stage, people may have increased memory loss and confusion, problems recognizing family and friends, and may repeat stories, favorite wants or motions.
They may also exhibit a decreased ability to perform complex tasks or handle personal finances, a lack of concern for hygiene and appearance, and require assistance in selecting the proper clothing to wear for the day, season or occasion.
During the late or severe stage, there is almost total memory loss. Individuals may recognize faces but forget names, mistake a person for someone else or have delusions such as thinking they need to go to work even though they no longer have a job.
At this stage, there is a strong need for holding something close for tactile stimulation, nurturing, companionship and comfort. Basic abilities such as eating, walking and sitting up fade at this time. Individuals may no longer recognize when they’re thirsty or hungry and require help with all basic activities of daily living.
“If you suspect a loved one is having memory or other cognitive issues, seeking an evaluation from a geriatrician can provide the necessary assessment to determine the best course of action for the patient and also guide the family to help their loved one in the best possible way,” said Priya Angi, M.D., chief of Geriatrics, Monmouth Medical Center, and a provider with RWJBarnabas Medical Group.
Angi is one of the geriatricians with Monmouth Medical Center’s Geriatric Health Center, which offers comprehensive evaluations for adults 65 and older. The center’s dedicated team of physicians, social workers and nurses evaluates each individual and works with families to design a care plan that meets the specific needs of that patient. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 732-923-7550.
Hackensack Meridian Health is another resource for those affected by the disease. Its Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health provides comprehensive, patient-centered, coordinated care for dementia and memory disorders, including assessment and treatment of dementia-related cognitive and psychological changes. To speak with an expert, call 844-200-6129 or visit hackensackmeridianhealth.org.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease or to connect with licensed social workers seven days a week through a toll-free helpline, call 866-232-8484, send a text to 646-586-5283, or web chat through alzfdn.org. Text message features and web chat is available in more than 90 languages.
This article originally appeared in the September 7 – 13, 2023 print edition of The Two River Times.
What Are the Warning Signs
of Alzheimer’s Disease?
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. Memory problems are typically one of the first warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
In addition to memory problems, someone with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may experience one or more of the following:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life, such as getting lost in a familiar place or repeating questions.
• Trouble handling money and paying bills.
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
• Decreased or poor judgment.
• Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them.
• Changes in mood, personality, or behavior.
Even if you or someone you know has several or even most of these signs, it doesn’t mean it’s Alzheimer’s disease.
Getting checked by your health care provider can help determine if the symptoms you are experiencing are related to Alzheimer’s disease, or a more treatable conditions such as a vitamin deficiency or a side effect from medication. Early and accurate diagnosis also provides opportunities for you and your family to consider financial planning, develop advance directives, enroll in clinical trials, and anticipate care needs.
For more information, visit cdc.gov.