About 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease also takes an emotional and physical toll on caregivers.
In recognition of Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, which is November, Lawrence Memorial Hospital and several community partners, including the Lawrence Public Library and Bridge Haven of Lawrence, will present a free seminar on understanding Alzheimer’s disease on Saturday, Nov. 4, at the library, 707 Vermont St. The public is invited to attend one session or all. No registration is required.
“Alzheimer’s disease has far-reaching effects,” said Sarah Randolph, executive director of Bridge Haven, a memory care facility. “Obviously, it’s so difficult for people who have Alzheimer’s. But we know that caring for someone with the disease can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Oftentimes, caregivers can be overwhelmed, and they need to know they are not alone.”
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. However, aging is a risk factor for developing the disease, with most cases beginning after age 60.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which is rare and often is familial, usually starts between the ages of 40 and 60.
These sessions are planned at a free community program, Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease, on Saturday, Nov. 4, at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.:
• 9:30-10:15 a.m.: “An Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease,” by Dr. Robert Beck, of Lawrence Neurology Specialists.
• 10:30-11:15 a.m.: “Current Research into Alzheimer’s Disease,” by Eric Vidoni, associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and assistant director of KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center, which is recruiting participants for several studies. For more information, go to kualzheimer.org or call 913-588-0555.
• 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: “Financial Considerations when Someone has Alzheimer’s Disease,” by Barbara Braa, trust officer at Central Bank of the Midwest.
• 12:45-1:30 p.m.: “Supportive Decision-Making Skills for Patients and Caregivers,” by Dana Lambert of AgeWise Advocacy and Consulting.
• 1:45-2:30 p.m.: “Caring for the Caregiver,” by Janet Ikenberry, director of health and human services at Douglas County Senior Resource Center.
Common warning signs of Alzheimer’s include memory loss, especially of recent events, names, places; confusion about time and place; trouble completing everyday tasks such as combing hair; difficulty finding appropriate words when speaking; inability to understand or find familiar situations or places; and mood and personality changes.
Generally, Alzheimer’s starts slowly. It may take time for relatives or close friends to realize something more is wrong than the minor forgetfulness that’s common during aging.
If someone you know seems to be experiencing signs of Alzheimer’s on an ongoing basis, it is important to have them evaluated by a primary care physician. As is the case with so many other diseases, early diagnosis is important because there are some promising treatments.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are many drug and nondrug therapies that can help to manage the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of the disease and improve quality of life for both patient and caregiver.
The National Institutes on Aging at the National Institutes of Health categorizes Alzheimer’s into three stages: early, middle (moderate) and late (severe). People who have the disease may progress at different rates through these stages.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after diagnosis, but some survive up to 20 years. This depends, in part, on age at diagnosis and whether a person has other health issues.
Support for caregivers is crucial. Connecting with other people who are going through the same thing is a helpful way to share ideas and learn more.
“In addition, there may be many other questions and concerns that people have — what about finances; what about long-term care; what about financial planning?” Randolph said. “It’s important to understand and to know what type of help is available.”
• A neurologist is a physician who specializes in the care of people with neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Lawrence Neurology Specialists is in the LMH Fourth Street Health Plaza, 1130 W. Fourth St., Suite 3203, in Lawrence. For an appointment, call 785-505-5020.
• The Senior Resource Center of Douglas County (yoursrc.org or 785-842-0543) is a good place to begin to find local support and resources.
• Information from the Alzheimer’s Association is available online at alz.org or from its 24-hour help line, 800-272-3900.
— Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, MA, RN, is community education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She is a Mayo Clinic-certified wellness coach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.