||November Is National Alzheimer's Diseas Month
The Number Of Americans Who Will Develop Alzheimer's Disease Is Expected To Increase By More Than 250 Percent By The Year 2050
The number of Americans expected to
develop Alzheimer's disease will increase by more than 250 percent by the year
2050. Currently, more than 4 million Americans suffer from the disease and
that number is expected to grow to more than 14 million in 50 years due to the
aging population in the United States.
All Americans are encouraged to
reflect on the growing number of seniors with the disease during National
Alzheimer's Disease Month. By the year 2025 California will lead the country
with 820,000 Alzheimer's cases; followed by Florida with 712,000 cases; Texas
with 552,000; New York with 431,000 and Pennsylvania with 349,000. By the
middle of this century 14 million people will die of the incurable disease,
which results from the abnormal buildup of protein in brain cells.
Approximately 20 percent of Americans between the ages of 75 and 84 have the
disease and almost half of those 85 years of age and older have Alzheimer's
Recent findings about causes and treatments of Alzheimer's could prove
beneficial, especially if research is completed before the number of cases
soars. Even if a cure is found today, however, there are hundreds of millions
of Americans living with Alzheimer's disease who need care.
As attention is turned to the disease there are five common questions that are usually asked of practitioners by the patient or his family:
- What's going to happen?
A simple answer to this difficult question is that Alzheimer's has an
unstoppable downward course. Over a long, but unpredictable period of time,
the disease causes a loss in the functioning of every capacity associated with
the brain. The individual changes from being able and independent to being
uncertain, confused and ultimately unable to care for himself. There is no
medical treatment currently available to cure or stop the progression of
- What will happen to the relationship between those with Alzheimer's and
It's almost certain that the relationship will change over time. At the
most straightforward level, the losses the person will suffer will make him
less of a companion. He will no longer be an equal partner. The person will
be unable to participate in his favorite activities. Over time, the endearing
qualities of the person, whom we once knew, will fade. Another very
devastating change is that the person will gradually forget his significant
relationships, including even spouses and children.
- How does Alzheimer's affect a person's feelings?
People with dementia continue to have an emotional life throughout the
course of the disease. Most individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer's
are aware of the losses they are experiencing and can foresee what's in store
for them. At some level, they know they have a terminal illness. This
realization can produce feelings of fear, grief, anger and anxiety. Some
people, however, ease comfortably into their dementia without negative
feelings. Although as the disease progresses, the person will be less able to
deal with his feelings. He may become very suspicious or paranoid, especially
if there is too much environmental stimulation.
- How can one still communicate with a person with Alzheimer's?
As the dementia progresses, the person becomes less able to communicate
equally with others. This means that the responsibility for communication
falls on other people. Early on, the person's expressive abilities begin to
decline, and finding words and putting ideas together becomes difficult. As
the disease progresses, the person's ability to express thoughts and feelings
declines until only basic expression is possible, such as single words or
gestures. The person with advanced dementia eventually loses the ability to
communicate with words altogether; only gestures remain, and he cannot
interpret what is being said.
- Active listening enhances communication with a person with Alzheimer's.
People should listen more than they talk, be patient, show interest by
maintaining eye contact and not respond to negative statements. Remember to
avoid distractions when communicating, focus solely on the person with
dementia, and use positive body language and a gentle tone of voice. Touching
also is a powerful vehicle for communication.
- Is there a right time to move someone with Alzheimer's into a more
protective environment such as an Assisted Living community or other care
Early on, it may be enough to have a supportive family and good
information from a physician. As the day-to-day demands on family and
caregivers increase, however, other resources will be needed. The decision to
move the person with dementia into a more protective environment is never
easy. Family members are the primary providers of care for persons with
dementia. But in the end, many families find they cannot provide all the care
the person needs.
- The decision to consider outside placement may be prompted by safety
concerns, such as if the person wanders and needs a secure environment or if
he or she becomes physically aggressive. Family, friends, health care experts
and support organizations can help caregivers think through other issues.
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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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