September is the Third Annual World Alzheimer’s Month. The theme for 2013 is “Dementia: A journey of caring.” Alzheimer’s disease is a major public health concern.
The first Essential Public Health Service is, “Monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems.” Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, Kentucky and Franklin County. For a complete listing of Franklin County’s leading causes of death see the Community Health Assessment at http://www.fchd.org/MAPP.aspx.
Mortality rates from Alzheimer’s disease are growing faster than those from breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, stroke and HIV (see graph at right).
Alzheimer’s disease takes a toll on more than the 5 million Americans living with the disease. An estimated 15.4 million family members and friends who serve as caregivers are also devastated. The direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease is approximately $203 billion.
“Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues” is Essential Public Health Service number three. According to the Alzheimer’s Association “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.” It is the most common form of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. There is no known cause for Alzheimer’s disease and even though the greatest risk factor is increasing age, the majority of people with the disease experience early onset in their 40s and 50s.
The 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease are:
>Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
>Challenges in planning or solving problems.
>Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
>Confusion with time or place.
>Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
>New problems with words in speaking or writing.
>Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
>Decreased or poor judgment.
>Withdrawal from work or social activities.
>Changes in mood and personality.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that worsens over time. The disease is characterized by seven stages including: no impairment; very mild decline; mild decline; moderate decline; moderately severe decline; severe decline; and very severe decline.
Most diagnoses occur in stage four where there is greater forgetfulness of recent events and personal history, difficulty performing arithmetic such as counting backward from 100 by 7s and difficulty performing tasks such as paying bills.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but the body of research is growing. Currently medications and non-drug treatments are used to improve quality of life by alleviating symptoms.
Regular physical activity and a heart-healthy diet may help to prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Essential Public Health Service number four is, “Mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems.”
An Alzheimer’s Association chapter is located in Lexington. A Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be held Sept. 29 in Lexington. More information is available by visiting http://www.alz.org or calling 1-800-272-3900.
The Kentucky State Senior Games is also seeking volunteers. You can sign up at VolunteerSpot at http://vols.pt/LMf56o.
Judy Mattingly holds a Master of Arts in Health Communication degree and is the accreditation coordinator at the Franklin County Health Department, 100 Glenn’s Creek Road.