November is Alzheimer's Disease and Awareness Month. Approximately 5.4 million people in the U.S. (60-70% of people with dementia) have the disease. Over 15 million family members and friends are involved in their care (Alzheimer's Association).
If the thought of developing Alzheimer's disease or another dementia scares you, you're not alone. A 2010 MetLife study found that American adults fear dementia more than any disease other than cancer.
Interestingly, almost 75% of these same adults indicated that they knew little or nothing about the disease... a sign that there's definitely a need for some straightforward information.
Dementia is one of approximately 100 disorders that diminish our cognitive ability. Alzheimer's is the most-diagnosed disorder. Believe it or not, we all exhibit behaviors similar to the symptoms of dementia every day: we forget things, we make mistakes, we make social blunders.
The difference between our everyday slip-ups and dementia is that dementia symptoms affect "... memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning" (Mayo Clinic). People with dementia find it very difficult or impossible to do their jobs whether in the workplace or in their personal lives.
If you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of dementia, the smartest thing to do is to see a physician as soon as possible for physical and cognitive testing. Sometimes dementia symptoms are caused by reversible factors such as medication, low B12, underactive thyroid, or depression. If symptoms are irreversible, medications and/or lifestyle changes can help to manage (though not cure) the disease (Alzheimer's Association). Obtaining a specific diagnosis is important; not only are early diagnoses more accurate, they can also lead to reduced symptoms and improved brain function (Alzheimer's and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin).
NOTE: If you're concerned about a loved one who resists seeking medical advice, see the National Alliance for Caregiving's Brain Health Toolkit for conversation tips.
Though Alzheimer's and many other dementia disorders are not yet treatable, dementia rates are dropping (NY Times). Researchers aren't sure why, but suspect that the decline is related to higher levels of education and increased compliance with hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol medications.
The mantra to remember: What's good for your heart is good for your brain (Harvard Health). Exercise, diet, reduced stress... they CAN make a difference!