What you need to know
Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s.
It’s one of the most feared diseases of anyone over the age of 55 – feared more so than cancer and heart disease. And the statistics are frightening: one in eight Americans over the age of 65 will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease. One out of two people over the age of 85 will be diagnosed. And it’s the seventh leading cause of death.
As we age, we joke about the so-called “senior moments”, those awkward moments when we misplace an object or muddle our way through half-lost thoughts. But how do we know if these are innocent signs of aging or serious signs of the disease?
According to David Gregoire, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Northeastern New York Chapter in Albany, the top 10 warning signs are:
Memory loss that disrupts life
Challenges in planning or solving problems
Difficulty completing familiar tasks
Confusion with time or place
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
Stumbling for words in speaking or writing
Misplacing things and inability to retrace steps
Decreased or poor judgment
Withdrawal from work or social activities
Changes in mood or personality
Although the disease has been around for over 100 years, there has been an increasing emphasis on the illness over the last 30 years, primarily because the increased life expectancy of baby boomers brings with it a greater susceptibility to the diseases of advanced age. But the same longevity that exposes patients to the risk of Alzheimer’s also raises the possibility for finding a cure. “As people age,” Gregoir notes, “we can study it more.”
At this point, no one knows for sure what causes the disease. Some researchers suspect a protein called “amyloid”, which can form a sticky plaque that short-circuits communication between nerve cells and destroys brain tissue. Another possible culprit is “tau”, a protein that clusters in tangles around nerve cells.
Findings like these give Gregoire hope. “Someday,” he predicts, “there will be a cure. It’s just a matter of when someday is.”
For now, he’s hopeful that the funding and research will continue to expand. “There are certain drug trials that look promising. It’s one of the nice parts of being part of such a large disease that is growing so fast – money is being put into the effort.”
Until the cure arrives, Gregoire remains just as focused on providing support for families coping with the illness. For those suffering from the disease or for those caring for patients, the Alzheimer’s Association on Washington Avenue Extension in Albany is a great resource. They provide programs and services to 17 counties, which represent approximately 30 percent of New York State. An estimated 40,000 patients live right in our area. As is the fact across the country, almost 80 percent of all sufferers live at home and are cared for by a family caregiver, and one out of three adults personally know someone with the disease. To support these patients and their families, the Association specializes in five core services: education, help line, medical alert/safe return, care consultations and support groups.
“We’re here to help, but we also need your help,” Gregoire said.
Towards that end, the Association will be hosting its annual gala on April 24 at the Stratton International Guard Base in Scotia. With the generous help of donors, it’s hoped that the Association can not only ease the anguish of the “long goodbye”, but look forward to a day when getting older no longer means having to bid farewell before our time.
For more information about the Alzheimer’s Association, Northeastern New York Chapter, visit www.preview.alz.org/northeasternny/.
Counties the Alzheimer’s Association serves