Facts: 5.4 million people are living with it; it’s the sixth leading cause of death in America; and it’s the only one of the top 10 causes of death that can’t be prevented, cured, or even slowed.

It involves more than 15 million caregivers, providing over 17 billion hours of care. And every 69 seconds, it impacts someone in our country.

Alzheimer’s.

It’s been in the news late, with recent reports about new research and redefining the disease process, looking for biomarkers, and so on. These researchers are to be applauded for their work, and as long as there is movement, there is hope.

What I’ve found, however, is that in spite of how interesting research and the medical aspects of Alzheimer’s may be, dealing with it is a day by day, moment by moment endeavor. The caregivers mentioned above are less inclined to follow the research than they are to follow the folks who are in the midst of the disease.

We’ll be looking at this for a while, but first let’s clear the air a little. You probably are aware that Dad is not the same as the guy down the street — he’s even not the same as his own siblings. He’s … Dad. Given that, Alzheimer’s, as with any other disease, will be somewhat individualized. Yes, there are certain stages and processes it follows, but each person will wind his way through the experience colored by who he is.

Alzheimer’s and dementia aren’t necessarily the same thing. There are many causes and types of dementia and Alzheimer’s is one on the list. However, don’t assume Alzheimer’s is “just” dementia — it’s a fatal disease that impacts the mind and the body. And it’s not just “getting old and forgetful.” As one colleague put it: Forgetting where you put the car keys doesn’t necessarily mean Alzheimer’s is near, but forgetting what the car keys are for may be an indication.

Memory loss, particularly of recent events, may be a forerunner of forgetting many things, such as names of family and friends, words used to communicate and so on. Increased anxiety and (to us) unreasonable questions also come into play.

Here and in columns to come, I will absolutely not try to define every nuance and symptom of Alzheimer’s. I will, however, attempt to give some broad information as to how it could change lives — both Dad’s and the family’s. If you’re looking for a “what-to-do-in-every-instance” checklist, good luck. If you find one, let us know. There are, however, guidelines and approaches that come primarily from folks who have waded these waters before us — and that’s a whole lot better than theory.

In the meantime, and for future reference, the Alzheimer’s website has a ton of information on how you and Dad may get through this; or if you’re interested, the latest updates on medical approaches and research. Go to www.alz.org and cruise the site. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

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