World Alzheimer’s Month
In support of #WorldAlzheimersMonth this September, we want to add our voices to those organisations working hard to tackle the huge global challenge of dementia. With nearly 50 million people with dementia globally, it really is one of the largest healthcare crises we face worldwide.
But having worked with experts in the field as well as families looking after their loved ones, at Promedica24 we know that a little bit of knowledge can make all the difference. That’s why we’re sharing some facts about Alzheimer’s as well as setting out the truth on some common misconceptions you may have come across.
An introduction to Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. It is a degenerative brain condition that causes damage to brain cells and leads to a number of symptoms that tend to get worse over time.
The first sign of Alzheimer’s is often memory loss. Of course, it’s common to slow down a bit or forget things occasionally as we get older, but this is different. You might have trouble recalling recent events or learning new information. Early on in the disease, the damage within the brain tends to be focused on the Hippocampus region, the bit that helps convert short-term memories into longer term ones. This means you might find you are able to talk in detail about events 25 years ago, but when you try to remember what happened yesterday you draw a blank.
You may also find you lose items around your home or get lost more easily when you’re out and about.
But it’s not just memory issues that can impact on your daily life.
Many people with Alzheimer’s will go on to develop other issues. These might be with thinking or speaking, with spatial awareness and perception of time. And you may find you struggle with changes in your mood.
In the later stages of the disease, a person with Alzheimer’s may become much less aware of what is going on around them. They may appear more frail and find it difficult to walk or even eat without help. Eventually, they will need help with all of their daily activities which can be incredibly difficult for those around them.
A few facts and stats
- The biggest risk factor when it comes to Alzheimer’s is age. Over the age of 65, the risk of developing the disease doubles every five years. One in six people over 80 have dementia.
- Over 65, there are twice as many women as men with Alzheimer’s disease. It is thought this may be linked to loss of oestrogen after the menopause.
- Life expectancy with Alzheimer’s varies, but on average people tend to survive 8-10 years after their first symptoms.
Some common misconceptions
Alzheimer’s is not a serious condition
Perhaps it’s because people can live with the disease for many years, but Alzheimer’s is often not seen to be as worrisome as other diseases associated with older age.
This is absolutely not the case.
There are currently 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK and the numbers are rising rapidly, projected to reach 1.6 million by 2040. When taking into account healthcare costs, social costs and unpaid care costs (ie family) it is estimated that, in the next two decades, the cost of dementia care will rise to £94.1billion. That sounds pretty serious.
Alzheimer’s only affects older people
While it is most common to develop Alzheimer’s disease after the age of 65, it is possible to be diagnosed before this. In fact, signs and symptoms can appear as early as 30 years old. In fact, in the UK alone there are more than 40,000 people under the age of 65 who have some form of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is inherited
While the majority of Alzheimer’s is not inherited, the disease is occasionally passed on through genes from one generation to the next. This is rare and will usually result in symptoms appearing well before the age of 65.
It is thought that if you have a parent or sibling who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over the age of 65 you may have a slightly higher risk of developing the disease. However, this does not mean that Alzheimer’s is inevitable.
If you’re going to get Alzheimer’s, there’s nothing you can do to stop it
There are plenty of ways you can reduce your own risk of developing dementia by living a healthy lifestyle, particularly from mid-life onwards. Try to do regular physical exercise and keep to a healthy weight, avoid smoking and eat a balanced diet with a wide range of nutrients.
There is no way to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s
It’s true there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s despite the amazing work that is being done in this area. However early diagnosis and prescribed medications can help to slow progress, manage symptoms and even improve brain function in some cases.
The types and amounts of drugs prescribed will depend on the impact the disease is having, and will almost certainly change over time. But working closely with a specialist and taking medications as prescribed will improve your quality of life immeasurably.
Important research is ongoing into Alzheimer’s disease and its impact and treatment options. Recent studies have found links between the COVID-19 pandemic and neurological changes associated with Alzheimer’s, while other studies have used stem cell technology to try to further understand the impact of Alzheimer’s on the brain. For more information about ongoing research, visit Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Meanwhile, until we win the fight, care will be required as Alzheimer’s progresses. And for families who are left looking after their loved ones and picking up the pieces, it can be an incredibly difficult time.
At Promedica24, we’re here to support you in the home whenever and however you need it. Find out more about our Alzheimer’s services.