The brain is probably the most complex organ in the human body, acting as a sort of control center that keeps all of our bodily systems functioning as they should while allowing us to create memories, think critically and more. While forgetfulness may happen to everyone from time-to-time, many unfortunately experience memory loss or a decline in other cognitive abilities that seriously interfere with daily life, otherwise known as dementia. The leading cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which is present in 60% – 80% of cases. This June, we recognize Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month to help promote conversation and support that will one day hopefully lead to a cure.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” Currently, it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. While some cognitive function may decline with age, Alzheimer’s is not considered a normal part of aging. Most individuals with this disease are over the age of 65, but there are approximately 200,000 Americans who experience younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
Typically, those with dementia will gradually get worse over a number of years, whereas those with Alzheimer’s will decline much quicker. In the disease’s later stages, individuals will lose the ability to converse or respond to their environment. There are no cures for this disease, although research has found treatments that may help slow worsening symptoms.
There are a few symptoms to watch for that may point towards the development of Alzheimer’s. Most commonly, individuals will first experience difficulty remembering new information due in part to the “learning center” of the brain being affected. As it progresses, the person may:
- Become frequently disoriented
- Exhibit mood or behavior changes
- Become more confused about events, time and place
- Have unfounded suspicions about family, friends, and professional caregivers
- Exhibit more serious memory loss
- Have difficult speaking, swallowing and walking
Unfortunately, an individual experiencing the initial symptoms will most likely be unaware they are behaving differently, so it is generally something that is more obvious to family or friends. If this has been something that was brought to your attention, it is important to visit with a doctor as soon as possible for evaluation.
How to Support Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month
The biggest thing you can do to show your support is to help spread the word about Alzheimer’s disease. More awareness may help others recognize the symptoms or may help inspire others to take action towards finding a cure. With 50 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, it is a problem that deserves our attention.
If you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms that may be pointing towards dementia or Alzheimer’s, contact the Neurology department at Decatur Memorial Hospital. Our patients receive comprehensive treatment for a variety of neurological disorders with compassion and understanding.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and how you can become involved in the fight for a cure, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.