June is observed as Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the purpose of this event is to educate people about the risk factors and symptoms of the disease, connect caregivers with appropriate support resources, and raise funds for research into better treatment options. You can show your support by wearing purple and using the hashtags #ENDALZ and #IGoPurpleFor to share your experiences on social media.
Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors
Alzheimer's is caused by a complex interaction between several different risk factors, including:
- Age. The majority of people with Alzheimer's are age 65 and older, with one-third of people over age 85 suffering from the condition.
- Gender. Women are more likely than men to suffer from Alzheimer's.
- Ethnicity. Latino and African American adults are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people of other ethnic backgrounds.
- Family history. Having a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s increases your risk of developing the condition. Several genes are linked to the disease, but genetic testing is typically only done as part of research studies.
- Past head injury. Having suffered one or more previous head injuries resulting in a loss of consciousness is linked to added Alzheimer's risk.
- Poor physical health. People who suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes face an increase Alzheimer’s risk. Smoking, living a sedentary lifestyle, and not eating a variety of fruits and vegetables are also associated with a higher than normal Alzheimer’s risk.
- Lack of mental and social stimulation. People with lower levels of education and those who are socially isolated are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.
Signs of Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's creates a wide range of symptoms involving communication, behavior, and personality. Examples of common communication difficulties include:
- Having trouble remembering the meaning of words
- Using words inappropriately
- Losing train of thought when speaking
- Having trouble paying attention during conversations
- Having difficulty blocking out background noise such as a TV or radio while someone is speaking
Examples of common changes in behavior and personality include:
- Getting upset or worried frequently
- Having angry outbursts
- Getting physically violent
- Pacing to relieve stress or tension
- Wandering away from home
- Hiding things or believing that other people are trying to hide things
- Appearing sad or depressed
- Having difficulty sleeping at night
Physical changes such as a susceptibility to falls, increased infection risk, loss of bladder control, and malnutrition don't occur until the later stages of the disease.
Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease can only be definitively diagnosed after death by examining brain tissue. However, doctors can indicate whether a person has possible Alzheimer’s (dementia that could have another cause) or probable Alzheimer's (dementia that has no other identified cause). Evaluations are based on:
- Getting descriptions of symptoms from caregivers
- Testing memory, problem solving ability, and language skills
- Using blood tests and urine tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms
- Using brain scans such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) to rule out other possible causes for symptoms
Caring for Alzheimer's Patients
There is no medication available to prevent or cure Alzheimer's disease, and people often try to care for their loved ones with Alzheimer's disease at home. Home health care aides, respite services, and meal delivery services can provide some assistance, but care becomes more difficult as the disease progresses.
In most cases, a person with Alzheimer's disease will eventually need full-time care in a nursing home. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (SS) benefits are often used to help pay for the cost of care. SS offers a special "compassionate allowance" for those with early-onset Alzheimer's disease to expedite approval for disability benefits.
Once a person with Alzheimer’s is receiving nursing home care, loved ones will want to be mindful of signs of caregiver abuse. Since adults with advanced Alzheimer’s struggle with memory and communication, they are vulnerable to abuse. If you suspect that your family member is being mistreated by nursing home staff, contact Neblett, Beard & Arsenault to learn more about your legal options.