Since 1983, the month of November has been recognized as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month after being designated as such by former President Ronald Reagan. The disease at that time had been diagnosed in only two million people. Today, that number has risen significantly to over five million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, which was founded back in 1980.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
A type of dementia, Alzheimer’s is a condition that leads to behavioral problems, in addition to memory loss and difficulty thinking. It’s the most common form of dementia and sadly, is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Over time, the disease can progress to a point where a person is no longer able to accomplish daily tasks or care for themselves. Oftentimes they become unaware of their environment, they may not recognize loved ones anymore, and sometimes become unable to carry on conversations. Currently, there is nothing that will cure, or even treat, Alzheimer’s Disease.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Every nurse, healthcare worker, and family members of the elderly should become familiar with symptoms of the disease; part of Alzheimer’s awareness is knowing how to spot when a loved one or patient may be developing the condition. Some things to look out for include:
- Trouble solving problems
- Difficulty planning and completing tasks
- Becoming confused with time
- Confusion as to where they are
- Misplacing things frequently
- Being unable to retrace their steps
- Major shifts in personality and mood
- Memory loss
- Asking the same things repeatedly
- Telling the same stories over and over
- Trouble following directions
Become Aware of How You Can Help
One of the best things anyone can do for someone who has Alzheimer’s Disease is to be patient with the person. It’s important that you not take things personally that may happen – this is incredibly difficult for family members and friends of Alzheimer’s patients because often, the disease progresses to a stage where the patient no longer recognizes or “knows” their loved ones. Patients might become angry with them, violent, and panic at the sight of them, and claim they’ve never seen them before.
Although there is no treatment or cure for people with Alzheimer’s Disease, there are things you can do to help, especially if the condition is still in its early stages. Always try to make sure the person is comfortable and safe. You can even say something simple to them like “You’re safe with me” to lessen their anxiety. As frustrated as you may get, it’s vital that you never yell or argue. Imagine how the Alzheimer’s patient feels – they can no longer understand what is going on in their world. They need a calming voice.
Paying attention to the patient’s environment and simplifying it is key to helping to reduce anxiety, fear, and agitation daily. Keep a daily routine for the patient; this helps avoid confusion and lets him or her know what they can expect each morning, each night, each meal, etc. Don’t overstimulate the person, either. Present only one idea or suggestion at a time, and say only one thing at a time so he or she can process it as well as possible without trying to sort through too many confusing thoughts at once.
Alzheimer’s Awareness Month Activities
The whole idea driving the purpose of Alzheimer’s Awareness month is to work to educate the public about the disease. There are many activities that take place not only in the month of November but also throughout the entire year that aim to do just that. These activities raise awareness of coping, symptoms, research, and more.
There are many memory walks to raise not just awareness for the disease, but also money for research. If you can’t find a walk near you, volunteers are always needed to work with Alzheimer’s patients – even if it’s just being a companion for them for a bit. Whether you’re a family member who helps care for a loved one in his or her home, a traveling nurse who goes where you’re needed most or anyone in between, there is always a need for your help and attention.
There is a National Memory Screening Program that many people participate in, and this is available throughout the United States. The program provides memory screenings that are free to anyone who is interested. It’s a great way to help give clues to whether you or a loved one is having memory issues or not.
Although November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, it’s crucial that everyone educate themselves and others about the disease, joining the fight against a devastating condition that can rob any one of us of our loved ones.