Are Alzheimer’s and Dementia Hard? HealthYeah!
Alzheimer’s, along with similar forms of dementia, affects nearly 44 million people worldwide. While treatment options can reduce symptoms, there is currently no cure for the disease.
Excy co-founder and CEO Michele Mehl sat down with Ian Kremer, Executive Director of LEAD Coalition to talk about care, support, detection, and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. We love Ian’s passion about advancing the life of those with Alzheimer’s. He believes that through necessary policy changes and advancement in scientific research, fewer people will have to face Alzheimer’s in the future until the disease is eradicated completely.
Jump into the interview anytime by clicking on the video below, but we’ve also included a recap below for a quick read.
Alzheimer’s: Debunking Common Myths
- I am not at risk if I do not have a family history of Alzheimer’s.
It can affect anyone, even those without family history. So, while contracting Alzheimer’s may ultimately be out of your control, be vigilant about mitigating your risk to Alzheimer’s by keeping an active and healthy lifestyle. The Lancet identified nine potentially modifiable health and lifestyle factors from different phases of life that, if eliminated, might prevent dementia.
- For some, Alzheimer’s is just a normal part of aging.
It is not a normal part of the aging process; Alzheimer’s is a disease. Therefore, like any disease, it can be eradicated through breakthroughs in research and medicine.
- Dementia is the same as Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are not interchangeable terms; Alzheimer’s is a disease, while dementia is a suite of symptoms that could be caused by many different underlying diseases.
Handling an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis: Life Goes On!
Depending on the rate of progression of the disease, people with Alzheimer’s can live for decades after diagnosis. Ian believes there are two sides to handling an Alzheimer’s diagnosis: the practical side, and the bucket list side.
Because Alzheimer’s attacks cognition and judgment, the practical side should begin as soon as possible after diagnosis. As a result, patients should decide how they want to live day-to-day and be involved in decision making as early as possible. The practical side involves legal, financial, medical, and potentially spiritual planning.
On the bucket list side, Ian believes those affected with Alzheimer’s should continue to live and try new things. For example, he has seen Alzheimer’s patients tap into previously unknown artistic abilities that create a sense of hope and peace.
The Role of Loved Ones in Support and Detection
As the loved one of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, it is crucial be supportive and help maintain autonomy. Because of scientific advances, we can detect Alzheimer’s earlier than in past generations, sometimes even before symptoms present. The Alzheimer’s Association has identified 10 warning signs and symptoms. If you notice any of them, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor. If your loved one is diagnosed, facilitate their decision making and support their choices without stigmatizing their diagnosis.
As people age, the risk for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis grows. This causes many children to worry about their parents and search for signs of dementia. If you live far from a parent, it can be helpful to ask someone who engages with them more often. So, make sure to communicate with a spouse, neighbor, or friend, to discuss their observations. Helpful insight can also be gained through those who see the person less frequently. For example, if changes in behavior are very gradual, those who see the loved one frequently may not pick up on the changes.
Fundamental changes in someone’s traditional patterns may be signs of dementia. This can include things like being unable to operate a car that you have always driven. Or, being suddenly unable to bake a cake you make each year may be warning signs. However, it is important not to diagnose yourself. In other words, don’t turn to Doctor Google. If you have concerns about sudden changes in behavior or ability, see a qualified physician for diagnosis.
Establish a Baseline: Normalize a Check-Up from the Neck Up!
To monitor the presentation and severity of Alzheimer’s, get a baseline measurement of cognitive wellness. As part of the Affordable Care Act, those 65 and older on Medicare can ask for a cognitive assessment test from the physician as part of their free annual wellness visit. Each year, new cognitive assessment results can be compared to this baseline measurement to determine if cognitive wellness is holding stable, or if more tests are needed.
The Link Between a Healthy Body and a Healthy Brain
While studies have not definitively proven the link between exercise and nutrition on mitigating the severity of Alzheimer’s, there is clear evidence to show that healthier lifestyles reduce the risk of dementia. Strong evidence shows that engaging in healthy behaviors – such as proper exercise, nutrition, and adequate sleep – can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Research also shows it can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, and reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning it deteriorates the brain over time. Since our brain controls the rest of our body, we are better off facing a cognitive disease if our bodies are already healthy. A more resilient and strong body will make for a more resilient and strong brain. While they will not guarantee prevention, proper exercise and nutrition will improve quality of life before and after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. At Excy, we do our best to make quality lower and upper body cycling easily accessible from home or a care facility to make the decision to exercise easier. Aerobic exercises include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling and other activities. This can be helpful to boost the heart rate and strengthen the heart and lungs.
UsAgainstAlzheimer’s has a terrific campaign, called “Be Brain Powerful,” aimed at women (who are at roughly twice the risk as men for Alzheimer’s): https://bebrainpowerful.org.
Ian’s Advice for Those Living with an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
- Deal with it! (“I mean this kindly”)
Do not allow denial or the stigma of a cognitive disorder to defeat you. Instead, embrace the pain, embrace the fear, and deal with those emotions. Bring the people around you closer and allow them to be supportive.
- Do something affirmative with your diagnosis!
Whenever possible, volunteer for research trials. Trials range from biomedical trials involving new drug discoveries to social interventions about quality of life. These studies give patients a sense of purpose that will not only help themselves, but hopefully help the following generations as well. Ian suggests coordinating with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Trial Match system.
- Be an advocate!
Find a patient advocacy group, volunteer, and raise your voice to demand better support from our partners in government. Alzheimer’s research has made huge strides, but there is so much more to be done.
There are two kinds of people: those of us who have seen this disease, and those of us who hope to never see it. To find out how you can fight for a better future for Alzheimer’s patients, visit www.leadcoalition.org and find the “Coalition Members” pages most relevant to you.
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