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Dementia: What You Need to Know

According to some experts, there is a global dementia epidemic. As of 2014, there were an estimated 44 million people living with dementia worldwide, Alzheimer’s Disease International reported. That number is expected to triple by 2015.

September 21, 2015 is World Alzheimer’s Day during World Alzheimer’s Month. The purpose of having a designated day to talk about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is for organizations to raise awareness and funds for research. The Alzheimer’s Association reported that Alzheimer’s disease is the only cause of death in the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed.  

What You Can Do

It’s important to note that Alzheimer’s and dementia are not a normal part of aging.

“It’s always interesting how many people think that it’s a normal part of aging,” said Heather Snyder, PhD, Director of Medical & Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. “Of the estimated more than five million people living with Alzheimer’s disease [in America], roughly half do not receive a diagnosis.”

Memory loss can be attributed to other illnesses or issues, so it is recommended that you or a loved one see a doctor if there are signs of dementia. A diagnosis of dementia, while devastating, will help you and your family plan appropriately. Or, there may be a diagnosis of something easily treatable such as a medication side effect, depression, or a malfunctioning thyroid that is causing memory loss.

While there are risk factors for dementia—age, gender and genetics—a study by Alzheimer’s Disease International notes that there are risk factors in life such as depression, sleep disorders and lifestyle choices that can reduce the chance of developing this disease or delay the onset of symptoms. “Diet, physical activity, alcohol and smoking habits” are all cited as lifestyle choices in this study that can negatively impact cardiovascular health and possibly dementia risk.

“If we can all enter old age with better developed, healthier brains we are likely to live longer, happier and more independent lives with a much reduced chance of developing dementia,” concluded the authors of the World Alzheimer Report 2014 by Alzheimer’s Disease International.

Impact on Caregiving

While the focus of fundraising and awareness is on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the number of people living with dementia is significant and the ripple effect is on caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association estimated that in 2014, unpaid family and friends provided 17.9 billion hours of care to someone living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. In turn, this caregiving can take a toll on the person providing the care.

The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation lists the 10 signs of caregiver stress:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Social Withdrawal
  4. Anxiety
  5. Depression
  6. Exhaustion
  7. Sleeplessness
  8. Irritability
  9. Lack of concentration
  10. Health problems

If you are experiencing any of these signs, it is advised that you contact your primary health care provider. If hiring a professional caregiver to provide respite care is not an option, there are many avenues for family caregiver training that might help with balancing the various stressors. It’s not selfish to care for yourself because your well-being is critical to your ability to continue being a caregiver.

Learn more about World Alzheimer’s Day at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation website.

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