After her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, Michelle Ghant learned the best way to cope and understand the disease was to educate herself on every level.
Ghant, a life enrichment coordinator at Trinity on Laurens, said while patience is key dealing with a family member going through the progression of Alzheimer’s, education is empowering.
“I’m a firm believer in education,” Ghant said. “If you have a family going through dementia then Alzheimer’s, you need to read everything and learn everything you can.”
Alzheimer’s disease dates back to 1906 when Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, met and examined a 51-year-old woman suffering from a rare brain disorder. It is aggressive on the brain’s cells or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, language and thinking skills, behavioral and physical changes, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, a national nonprofit focused entirely on the care and needs of those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
The disease is progressive and sometimes debilitating; however, the disease does not affect every individual who is aging.
While there is not a current cure for the disease, there are various warning signs individuals can detect early so as to get medication and help, slowing down the progression of the disease.
Many individuals might assume memory loss of events, names or objects is the only warning sign of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; however, there are various other signs, including poor judgment, confusion about time and place and struggling to meet basic tasks such as getting dressed.
Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America help individuals like Ghant understand the disease a little bit better and provide health care professionals, caregivers and others with more education about the disease and early detection.
“We’re all about care,” said Carol Steinberg, president of the foundation. “The point is there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. There are no treatments to reverse the disease. The only thing we can do is try to improve the quality of life.”
With the rise of the aging population, it is estimated about as many as 5.1 million Americans may have the disease, according to the foundation.
The disease has a greater impact on those of a certain age, and as the number of those 65 years and older begins to double, the onset of the disease may increase as well.
The percentage of those 65 years and older in Aiken County is about 17 percent, according to the U.S. Census, and about 22 percent in the City of Aiken.
However, those younger than 65 years old can also develop early onset dementia, although it is more rare, according to Steinberg.
“The risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is 65 and old, but there are rare forms in the 30s, 40s and 50s,” Steinberg said. “We suggest again anyone who has memory concerns or want to see where the memory is now should have their memory screened.”
As a part of National Memory Screen Day, Trinity on Laurens, 213 Laurens St., will host free and public memory screenings on Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for those of any age to want to see where their memory stands as of today.
The screening is not to diagnose someone but to show individuals where their memory is in hopes of prompting each one to start a discussion with their physician.
“It’s a very personal situation, and many don’t talk about their memory,” Steinberg said. “People tend to fear denial and not mention it – not even mentioning it to friends, family or physicians. This is a way to spark the conversation and be proactive about memory.”
The screening will be offered by a qualified nursing staid who will administer the screening hang out materials on brain health, caregiving and memory concerns.
During a survey by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America of National Memory Screening Day 2010, 92 percent of those polled had never had a screening done by their physician, and 83 percent were worried about their memory but did not wish to discuss their concerns with a health care provider.
For those who may look after family members with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the best advice is to get help, according to Steinberg.
“Many families think they can do this alone, even the best caregivers,” Steinberg said. “They can benefit from support groups to talk with peers and learn from others. They should know organizations on both the national and local levels which provide counseling, education and will walk them through a crisis on a daily basis.”
The organization also helps families map out financial plans when paying for support or caregiver help. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most costly diseases due to round-the-clock supervision and medical expenses if an individual falls and hurts themselves.
Early detection and taking advantage of memory screening tests cannot be stressed enough in detecting the disease, Steinberg said.
“There are so many things someone can do to improve the quality of life such as look into behavioral preventions, lifestyle choices and seek that support that people need,” Steinberg said. “The earlier it’s detected when they are still able to verbalize ... express their wishes if at all possible, such as do they want hospice care. That really helps maintain someone’s dignity because this is one of the most undignified diseases.”
For more information about the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, visit www.alzfdn.org.
Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville.
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