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November 21, 2006 > Alzheimer’s Disease: It Affects More Than You Think

Alzheimer’s Disease: It Affects More Than You Think

Local Support Group Offers Hope to Family, Caregivers

by Washington Hospital

The human brain is the hub of our thoughts, feelings and actions – from brushing our teeth in the morning to solving complex math problems…even remembering a loved one’s face. Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a devastating disorder of the brain’s nerve cells, impairs memory, thinking, and behavior and leads, ultimately, to death.

The cost of Alzheimer’s – mentally, emotionally, physically and financially – affects not only people with Alzheimer’s disease, but caregivers, family members, friends and the community. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 4.5 million Americans have the disease, a number that has more than doubled since 1980. This month marks National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, an excellent opportunity to learn more about the disease.


Support for caregivers and family members


As one of its many resources to the community, Washington Hospital hosts a monthly Alzheimer’s Disease support group for family members and caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s, as well as several free community education seminars related to Alzheimer’s each year to help educate about the disease.


“The support that Washington Hospital has provided to the Alzheimer’s Association has been tremendous,” according to Deanna Randall, East Bay Site Director for the Alzheimer’s Association who facilitates the support group held at the hospital. “Not only do they make space for the support group every month, but they have hosted a number of presentations provided by the Association at the hospital. Washington Hospital events draw one of the biggest audiences in the Bay Area, so this kind of support is extremely helpful. We hope our alliance with the hospital continues for as many years as it takes to eradicate Alzheimer’s disease.”


The next Alzheimer’s Disease support group meetings at Washington Hospital will take place on Nov. 29 and Dec. 20. The group meets the last Wednesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located in the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.


Contrary to popular belief, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are not “normal” signs of aging. Whereas normal age-related memory loss might include forgetting part of an experience, those with Alzheimer’s may forget an entire experience and be unable to remember it later. Because the early signs of Alzheimer’s can be hard to differentiate from normal aging, oftentimes people don’t seek help right away.


Helping those touched by Alzheimer’s


The good news is that there are terrific local resources for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that impair memory and cognition. The Alzheimer’s Association offers myriad services to help those coping with the disease.


“We exist to promote awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases that cause dementia,” according to Randall. “We also provide information about memory changes in general, and we are a resource for anyone who is experiencing memory or cognitive changes.”


The Alzheimer’s Association provides support for individuals and families through a toll free 24-hour Helpline (800-272-3900), free educational materials, community presentations, daytime and evening support groups, in-person consultation, as well as training for professionals.


“It’s becoming rarer to meet someone who is not affected by Alzheimer’s disease,” Randall says. “They say that for each person with AD it touches three to five people at a personal level. I think that at a minimum, family members, as well as friends and community members are affected by the disease.”


The public often is affected by Alzheimer’s in ways people may not realize, from the emotional and physical stress on caregivers and family members to the danger those with Alzheimer’s may pose to themselves and those around them if, for instance, their ability to drive is compromised by cognitive decline.


It’s important for both family members and patients to seek information and care as early as possible.


A growing problem


“We believe this is going to be one of the major health crises of the 21st century,” Randall warns. “By 2050, which is less than 45 years from now, it’s estimated that there will be between 11.3 and 16 million people with Alzheimer’s, and that’s huge. The aging of the boomer population will have enormous effects.”


Currently, the Alzheimer’s Association is the single largest private contributor to Alzheimer’s research, having committed more than $200 million total in research projects since 1982, including nearly $21 million in 2006. Randall adds that with a possible reduction in federal funding next year, it could jeopardize research efforts nationally.


“As the numbers grow, this is going to become a larger issue for everybody,” she says. “It’s also going to become a huge issue for our nation’s health care system. We still don’t have the best tools that we need for diagnosis and treatment. Right now the average length of time between diagnosis and receiving help is 2.7 years, and to us this is not acceptable.”


Information equals power


The more people who become aware of the disease and understand its impact, the closer the Alzheimer’s Association comes to reaching a brighter future for patients living with a disease that can last as long as 20 years.


“Information is power,” Randall says. “If you know what you’re dealing with, you can be better equipped to face it. We work with families to give them tools that they need, including connecting caregivers to help them share ideas, strategies, hopes, joys and humor. Support groups help them feel connection and tremendous relief.’”


To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or find a local Alzheimer’s Association chapter close to you, visit the organization’s Web site at www.alz.org.


Each quarter, Washington Hospital hosts several free community education classes. To see a list of upcoming classes, visit www.whhs.com, click on “For Our Community,” select “Health Classes & Support Groups” and browse classes using the “Calendar of Classes.”


10 Warning Signs The Alzheimer’s Association provides a guideline of 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. This checklist of common symptoms can help you recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s disease:



  1. Memory loss

  2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks

  3. Problems with language

  4. Disorientation to time and place

  5. Poor or decreased judgment

  6. Problems with abstract thinking

  7. Misplacing things

  8. Changes in mood or behavior

  9. Changes in personality

  10. Loss of initiative

 
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