AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disease is disproportionately affecting ladiesÃ¢â‚¬”and not just the older female population. WomenAgainstAlzheimers, a new network thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s part of USAgainstAlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, is currently holding a summit in Washington, D.C. with activists, researchers, and policymakers to raise awareness and encourage more research. HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how the disease affects youÃ¢â‚¬”and what you can do about it:
What is AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disease? AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disease is the most common form of dementia; it affects memory function and gradually gets worse over time, eventually impeding day-to-day functioning, says Sarah K. Tighe, MD, a clinical and research fellow in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, who sees patients in the Memory and AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Treatment Center. More than five million Americans have the disease, according to the AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Association. Unfortunately thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no cure at this time.
What are the symptoms? Ã¢â‚¬Å“AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s affects people in different ways, so not everyone has the same presentation,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Tighe. One of the earliest symptoms of an AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s patient, though, is having trouble remembering new informationÃ¢â‚¬”forgetting a recent conversation or current eventsÃ¢â‚¬”and having that difficulty get progressively worse.
Other symptoms include trouble remembering a name they should know or a word they want to useÃ¢â‚¬”the Ã¢â‚¬Å“tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon,Ã¢â‚¬Â as Tighe refers to itÃ¢â‚¬”and problems with tasks, like following a recipe. People with AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s may also not recognize people they should know (such as a grandchild), or be able to navigate areas they should be familiar with.
If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re seeing these symptoms in, say, a grandparent, how do you know when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just forgetfulness versus when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a real concern worthy of a doctorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s visit?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We all have times where we might misplace our keys, we might forget where we parked our car,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Tighe. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s happening consistently or to the point where the person cannot problem-solve and deal with that situation, then that would be very concerning to me that there could be something like AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s or another dementia occurring.Ã¢â‚¬Â
What are the risk factors? Age is the biggest, says Tighe. While you can develop AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s earlier, most people with the disease are 65 and older. Genetics can also play a part, and some research says youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re more likely to get AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s if it runs on your momÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s side.
Some common chronic medical conditionsÃ¢â‚¬”uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterolÃ¢â‚¬”are risk factors, too. And no surprise here: Smoking also makes you more likely to get AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s (in addition to a whole host of other well-known health problems, of course).
Is there anything you can do to prevent it? Ã¢â‚¬Å“Age and genetics are not modifiable: We are our age and we have the genes that we were given,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Tighe. There are other things that you can change, though. Do your best to keep those medical conditions mentioned above at bay, she says. Staying away from cigarettes goes without saying. You should also eat healthfully and exerciseÃ¢â‚¬”both your body and your brain. That might mean taking an online course or embracing your puzzle hobby, says Tighe, as well as staying socially engaged (even more reason to hang with the fam and your girlfriends!). Yes, your 60s are a long ways away, but: Ã¢â‚¬Å“We think trying to stay healthy and maintain your health as you approach middle age is important in terms of reducing your risk of developing AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Tighe.
So how does this affect you now? Get this: Women make up almost two out of three Americans with AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and the majority of unpaid caregivers for AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s patients, according to the recently released AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Association 2013 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report.
So as a woman, you have a higher chance of developing the disease later on in life and potentially caring for an AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s patient much sooner.
Taking care of someone with AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s is a full-time job, says Trish Vradenburg, co-founder of USAgainstAlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and co-founder of WomenAgainstAlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is an intergenerational issue,Ã¢â‚¬Â says co-founder Meryl Comer, who also takes care of a mother and husband with AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Young women are now watching their mothers take care of their mothers, seeing it wear them out.Ã¢â‚¬Â
If someone you love has the disease, or if you want to learn more about it and join the fight against it, check out these resources:
AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Association. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a caregiver, find support groups in your area, call their 24/7 helpline for caregivers at 1.800.272.3900, and/or visit their AlzNavigator, a free online tool to help you plan next steps if someone you love has the disease.
WomenAgainstAlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢sÃ‚Â and USAgainstAlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s
Alzheimers.gov (managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)
AlzheimerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Foundation of America
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