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November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness and National Family Caregiving Month

November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness and National Family Caregiving Month

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am very passionate about improving care for people with Alzheimer's as well as educating both professional and family caregivers about Alzheimer's Disease. This is where I spent the first half of my professional career. In honor of National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregiver's Month I would like to share some facts and tips about Alzheimer's Disease and then end with things that everyone should be doing to keep their brains as healthy as possible.

According the Alzheimer's Association, in 2016 there were more than 220,000 Illinois residents over the age of 65 suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Nationwide the number of those affected by Alzheimer's is roughly 5.3 million and is expected to triple to 13.8 million by 2050 due to the number of baby boomers that will be over the age of 85. Age is the biggest risk factor.

Alzheimer's Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S; however, it is the 5th leading cause in people age 65 and older. Alzheimer's disease kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

In a 2016 report, the Alzheimer's Association identified the following facts related to the fiscal burden of Alzheimer's disease:

Nationwide the cost of caregiving for those with dementia (Alzheimer's and other related dementias) is $236 billion. This is    broken down in the following:

  • Medicare - $117 Billion
  • Medicaid - $43 Billion
  • Out of pocket for families - $46 Billion
  • Other (private insurance, HMOs, managed care, uncompensated care) - $30 billion

Research has shown that if individuals can push back; possibly stave off, the effects of diseases like Alzheimer's, this can potentially increase the length of one's quality of life. Dementia can't be stopped but functioning can be prolonged by maintaining brain health. All the things that promote brain health have a direct positive impact on physical health and decreases chances for chronic disease.

As people live healthier longer lives with memory issues not present or not present at earlier ages, this reduces the burden on families in terms of caregiving, strain on their relationships, and finances. This also keeps health care costs down for both families and the health care system which is already taxed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Alzheimer's Association have identified risk factors that can lead to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc. that cause cognitive decline. In order to preserve cognitive functioning, they promote: eating a good diet; being physically active; stopping smoking; having social/emotional support; decreasing/managing stress; and challenging the brain. This sentiment was also found from an extensive research analysis in 2010 by the National Institute on Health (NIH). They reviewed over 250 single studies and 25 high quality review studies and they came to similar results as the CDC and the Alzheimer's Association. They found six factors associated with both Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline, four of which were associated with increased risks of having diabetes, having APOE e4 genes, smoking and suffering from depression. Conversely, they found two factors that decreased a person's risks which included being both cognitively and physically active.

To summarize the findings of both of these studies from the CDC and NIH: exercising the body and the brain can increase the number of neural connections in the brain, making it more resilient to disease and damage. By exercising and doing aerobic activity the blood flow increases; and therefore, increases the oxygen being carried to the brain. Another benefit of exercise is increased reaction time, better concentration, and ability to focus. By doing these key things, the goal is to improve a person's cognitive performance, improve mental health status, and delay disease. There is no cure or way to stop the progression of dementia; however, there are evidence based ways to improve and prolong brain function and reduce the probability of disease.

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