Facts: 5.4 million people are living with it; its the sixth leading cause of death in America; and its the only one of the top 10 causes of death that cant 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.
Its 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 Ive found, however, is that in spite of how interesting research and the medical aspects of Alzheimers 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.
Well be looking at this for a while, but first lets clear the air a little. You probably are aware that Dad is not the same as the guy down the street hes even not the same as his own siblings. Hes Dad. Given that, Alzheimers, 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.
Alzheimers and dementia arent necessarily the same thing. There are many causes and types of dementia and Alzheimers is one on the list. However, dont assume Alzheimers is just dementia its a fatal disease that impacts the mind and the body. And its not just getting old and forgetful. As one colleague put it: Forgetting where you put the car keys doesnt necessarily mean Alzheimers 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 Alzheimers. I will, however, attempt to give some broad information as to how it could change lives both Dads and the familys. If youre 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 thats a whole lot better than theory.
In the meantime, and for future reference, the Alzheimers website has a ton of information on how you and Dad may get through this; or if youre interested, the latest updates on medical approaches and research. Go to www.alz.org and cruise the site. Youll be glad you did.