Unfortunately, Alzheimer's disease is a condition which affects many people around the globe. Families of all types, cultures and nations cope with this disease, which often requires family members to play the role of caregiver.
To highlight awareness, both of the condition and of the complicated nature of care, World Alzheimer's Month is being recognized across the globe during September.
This is the second annual observance of the worldwide awareness month, and this year's theme is "Dementia: a journey of caring."
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia — a term for a variety of brain disorders that can affect aspects of the mind like thinking, memory and behavior.
According to Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI), current estimates place the number of people around the globe living with dementia at over 36 million — a number that is expected to rise to over 115 million by the year 2050.
Alzheimer's Association, a US-based organization, reported that there are currently 5.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer's, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the US.
Many around the globe are either coping with the condition themselves or helping care for a loved one with the disease, which is not an easy task based on the nature of the condition.
"Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years," Alzheimer's Association explained. "In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment."
Alzheimer's Association reported that during the year 2012, 15.4 million Alzheimer's caregivers gave more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care, which had an estimated value of $216 billion.
Not only are time and finances involved on the part of the caregivers, but emotional strain is often involved too.
"More than 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; more than one-third report symptoms of depression," Alzheimer's Association reported.
During this year's World Azlheimer's Month, organizers are aiming to increase awareness not only of Alzheimer's itself, but of the care that this complicated condition requires.
“As the medical and research professionals explore interventions for treatment and prevention, the most powerful tools individuals and family members can use are education and advocacy. All of us can focus on brain health and prevention, however, those already exhibiting changes in memory or cognitive function need early diagnosis and medical intervention,” Rebecca Axline, LCSW, Advanced Practice Social Worker at the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute’s Nantz National Alzheimer Center, told dailyRx News.
“The primary barrier to receiving this is fear: fear of change, fear of loss, fear of the future. When we allow our fear to paralyze us, intervention for ourselves or loved ones is hampered. Seeking a clarification of diagnosis; treating symptoms that are reversible (vitamin deficiencies, sleep apnea, depression, vascular issues) can only be done when either the individual or the family/friends take the bold step of recognizing changes and seeking medical expertise,” Axline explained.
“Education and advocacy about the particular diagnosis is powerful throughout the disease spectrum. As individuals and families learn about their particular type of memory disease, they can learn strategies for managing stress, building a support system, using strategies to slow progression, and enhancing their personal strengths as they find joy in each life moment,” said Axline.
With increased awareness and focus, hopefully services for Alzheimer's patients and support systems for the loved ones caring for them will both improve.