An estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia — a number expected to rise by almost 14 million by 2050.
While this horrible disease robs individuals of their memories, it is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of disability and poor health.
Alzheimer’s disease attacks the nerve cells and brain tissue. Over time, the brain shrinks, disrupting all its functions. Before current tests can even detect the disease, it is forming plaque and tangles in areas of the brain that govern learning, memory, thinking and planning. Individuals may have trouble organizing their thoughts, expressing themselves or handling money. It can also impact personality and behavior.
Everyone experiences a memory lapse here and there, but when should you become concerned? One of the most common signs of this disease is forgetting new information or important dates or events. Some patients find themselves relying more and more on memory aids and asking the same questions over and over.
People may also have changes in their ability to take on tasks they once did well, like following an old family recipe or losing track of monthly bills. They may have trouble driving to a familiar location, they may become confused or forget where they are or how they got there.
Alzheimer’s can also impact balance, judging distance or determining color. They may struggling with their vocabulary — calling familiar objects by the wrong name.
While Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease, new tests and treatments are being developed. Early detection and treatment can slow the progression of the disease. Drugs can help treat cognitive symptoms.
New treatments are slow to emerge, though researchers are studying new drug therapies to target the way the disease works, inhibiting the development of plaques and preventing tangles from attacking brain cell transport systems. There are clinical trials underway to test the effectiveness and safety of these new therapies.
But these new treatments can be a far away for patients and families waiting on new treatment options. To help speed the process, drug makers, government advisors and nonprofit foundations have formed the Coalition Against Major Diseases to share data from clinical trials that will help speed up development of new treatment.
Recently, Crossville hosted the annual Alzheimer’s Tennessee Plateau Walk and the Scarecrow Festival to raise funds to help Tennesseans living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases. This organization offers a helpline where people can call for information, support and referrals. Call 1-800-ALZ-4283 or visit alztennessee.org to access resources and information you and your family need.