President Ronald Reagan understood the significant risks of Alzheimer’s disease when he designated November as Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness & Family Caregivers Month in 1983. Sadly, he passed away from the disease in 2004.
The prospect of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is a daunting one. It is the sixth-leading killer of Americans, ahead of breast and prostate cancers combined. And it’s the only leading disease with no prevention, no treatment and no cure.
Alzheimer’s is intimidating – and for good reason. It gradually robs people of their memories and ability to function, eventually leading to a shutdown of the individual’s body.
Following are six of the most important reasons why you should seek an early diagnosis in the event that you are seeing yourself or a loved one displaying the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Ruling out treatable – and possibly reversible – causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s is not the only potential cause of the memory loss and other symptoms often associated with the disease. Vitamin deficiencies, thyroid issues and delirium are among the other medical conditions that could be at fault.
- Diet and exercise. While any doctor will tell you that diet and exercise are keys to ensuring long-term physical health, it is equally important to prolonged cognitive health. In fact, there is research that shows that even after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, diet and exercise can be as effective as current medications in prolonging the physical and mental health of individuals.
- More benefits from medication. While no proven cure for Alzheimer’s has been found yet, there are FDA-approved medications that have been shown to be effective in slowing the disease’s progression and maintaining the person’s cognitive processes, particularly when the medications are used in the disease’s early stages.
- Time to plan. Until a cure is found for Alzheimer’s, one benefit of an early diagnosis is that it provides both the individual and loved ones additional time to plan and make important decisions regarding care and treatment, legal decisions and more.
- Preparing the caregiver. Often overlooked in the progression of Alzheimer’s are the caregivers – those who make personal sacrifices, both in their time and resources – to care for their loved ones. Understanding the changes that Alzheimer’s brings to the physical and mental wellbeing of the individual will help caregivers prepare as well as realize when the challenge is too large for them to take on as an individual.
- The many programs and services of the Alzheimer’s Association. One of the biggest benefits that people cite when they finally call the Alzheimer’s Association is that they are not alone. In Colorado, there are 67,000 people living with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis – a total that will jump to 92,000 by 2025. Those who call the Association’s Helpline (1-800-272-3900) are given access to a wide range of information, programs and services at no charge, from support groups and research programs referrals to information about care options and a range of programs for persons with early stage Alzheimer’s.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and services available through the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado, call (303) 813-1669, go to www.alz.org/co or call the 24-hour Helpline at 800-272-3900.