November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month. In the United States, there are more than 15 million Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss and changes in thinking and other brain functions. It is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases. The disease usually develops slowly and gradually, and gets worse as more brain cells wither and die. Ultimately, Alzheimer's is fatal, and currently there is no cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues to look for a cure.
Although current Alzheimer's treatments cannot stop Alzheimer's from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset and prevent it from developing.
If you are wondering if you or a loved one may have Alzheimer's, below are the 10 warning signs (the checklist with details can be found on the Alzheimer's Association website). 1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life; 2. Challenges in planning or solving problems; 3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure; 4. Confusion with time or place; 5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships; 6. New problems with words in speaking or writing; 7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps; 8. Decreased or poor judgment; 9. Withdrawal from work or social activities; and 10. Changes in mood and personality.
Being a family caregiver can be very difficult. Many times a spouse, child or sibling has to take on a different role than they are use to. It can be very uncomfortable telling an aging parent what to do, and to take care of them. Providing care for an older sibling can be difficult when in the past they took care of you.
The stubborn, critical, resistant or angry person is hard to deal with under any circumstances. This difficulty can be multiplied when you are taking care of a family member. You must now take on chores and responsibilities you never wanted in the first place, but feel somewhat forced to undertake. Perhaps there is no one else to do it. Perhaps there is no money to hire the help that would lessen the burden. Maybe you feel guilty if you don't help. There is no doubt that managing care and helping family members takes patience.
Getting support from other family members, friends, clergy, a caregivers support group or a counselor can be a great help for the family caregiver. A compassionate listener can do much to lessen the burden and reassure you that it is okay to feel upset by what you're going through. Reach out to others. Also, consider it absolutely necessary to have some time for yourself every day. It can make all the difference in your ability to manage one of the toughest jobs you can have.
If you know a family caregiver take time this month to thank them for the work they are doing to support someone with Alzheimer's.
For more information visit the Alzheimer's Association website at: www.alz.org.
For more information about local resources, you can contact 2-1-1.
Editor's note:?Taryn Mack is the institute director at Copper Country Mental Health.