I don’t know about you but I am quite terrified of the possibility of discovering that I have Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s is the new scourge of our times. It is the cancer that was once in that position at the top of the whispered list of dreaded diagnoses. But what you may not know is that Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States today. It is the only cause of death in the top 10 in America that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed down. I don’t know about you but I find that quite shocking that we have very few resources to effect a change to this disease.
Most people know someone with this diagnosis and most thought only elderly people were found to have this diagnosis. It used to be called senile dementia. Unbelievably, there are more than 5 million Americans living with this disease in the United States today. That is more than the population of the entire state of Utah. And many being diagnosed these days are not so very elderly – like in their early 50’s.
The thing that is so disheartening to me is the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. It robs us of our very being, our mind, our intellect, our capacity to function and to interact in the world. It carves up the brains ability to be our functioning engineer so that all that is left is a vacant body and no working mind. How horrendous is that? I know, as I have watched many hospice patients travel that road to emptiness, withdrawal and mental vacancy. I also watched my older sister who was a happy and capable woman, become an immobile and mentally vacant body. Her sweet disposition became two emotions – terror and crying and happy. As with many with this disease, she lost all memory of her siblings and her husband.
Most families care for their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease at home for a very long time. I have seen very elderly couples in their late eighties and nineties care for their spouse for months and years with little or no help. They become exhausted in the task and it often goes unrecognized by the family until the caregiver/spouse has a health concern or crisis of their own. Exhaustion is a common effect in the caregiver whether it is a spouse or adult child. And when you factor in the toll on the family – the toll is emotional, social and certainly financial. As the person with the dementia diagnosis progresses down the path of decline, their needs for care and safety increase to the point that they usually need to be professionally cared for in a specialty facility – a skilled nursing facility or a nursing home. Obviously, that becomes financially costly to the family members.
A number of years ago Glen Campbell let the world know of his awful diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. He decided in 2012 to do one final music tour despite plenty of symptoms and challenges with his diagnosis. I think in a way it was his contribution to open acknowledgement of Alzheimer’s Disease. Glen Campbell died on August 8th this year.
So, what to do to dodge this “bullet”? The scientific world thinks there are things one can do to possibly combat Alzheimer’s Disease or perhaps at least delay its effects. Those recommendations are: remaining active by exercising at least 3 times a week, avoid smoking, get enough sleep, stay mentally engaged and socially active, stay aware of symptoms, eat a healthy diet including omega-3 and vitamin E, relax and destress and reduce alcohol intake.
Ultimately, though, the only hope for a cure is research. It is through research that the answers will be found that will wipe this awful disease from the earth – leaving only a distant memory in the minds of those who will never face Alzheimer’s Disease and the devastation it wreaks.
It is sad and frankly a bit shocking to me that we know so little about a disease that was discovered and named by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. We have known about this disease for over 100 years and still we have no cure in sight, no treatment method to hold back the effects of the devastation and no immunization to prevent it.