June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month

June marks Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a general term for a decline in cognitive abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. Dementia is not a single disease but an umbrella term that includes conditions such as vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia, among others.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, meaning symptoms worsen over time. It primarily affects memory, thinking, and behavior. The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown, but it involves the buildup of proteins called amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain, which lead to the death of brain cells.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Recognizing the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia is crucial for seeking timely medical intervention and support. Here are some key symptoms to watch for:

  1. Memory Loss That Disrupts Daily Life: Frequent forgetfulness, especially of recently learned information, is a common early sign. This includes forgetting important dates or events and asking for the same information repeatedly.
  2. Challenges in Planning or Solving Problems: Individuals may find it difficult to follow a plan, work with numbers, or manage finances. They might struggle with concentration and take longer to do tasks they used to handle easily.
  3. Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks: People with early Alzheimer’s may find it hard to complete everyday tasks, such as driving to familiar places, managing a budget, or remembering the rules of a game.
  4. Confusion with Time or Place: Losing track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time can be a sign of Alzheimer’s. Individuals might forget where they are or how they got there.
  5. Trouble Understanding Visual Images and Spatial Relationships: Some people with Alzheimer’s experience vision problems, leading to difficulties with balance, reading, judging distance, and determining color or contrast.
  6. New Problems with Words in Speaking or Writing: Those with Alzheimer’s might have trouble following or joining a conversation, struggle with vocabulary, or use the wrong names for things.
  7. Misplacing Things and Losing the Ability to Retrace Steps: Putting items in unusual places and being unable to retrace steps to find them is common. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing.
  8. Decreased or Poor Judgment: Individuals may exhibit poor judgment, such as giving large amounts of money to telemarketers or neglecting personal grooming and cleanliness.
  9. Withdrawal from Work or Social Activities: People with Alzheimer’s might withdraw from hobbies, social activities, or work projects. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite team or remembering how to complete a hobby.
  10. Changes in Mood and Personality: Mood and personality changes are common. Individuals can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious. They might be easily upset at home or in unfamiliar places.

What to Do If You Notice Symptoms

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential to take the following steps:

  1. Consult a Healthcare Professional: Make an appointment with a doctor to discuss the symptoms. A thorough medical evaluation can help determine whether the symptoms are due to Alzheimer’s, another type of dementia, or a different medical condition.
  2. Get a Comprehensive Evaluation: Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia typically involves a variety of tests, including neurological exams, mental status tests, brain imaging (such as MRI or CT scans), and blood tests to rule out other causes of symptoms.
  3. Early Intervention and Treatment: While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, early intervention can help manage symptoms. Medications are available that may temporarily improve or slow the progression of symptoms. Therapies and lifestyle changes can also support cognitive function and overall well-being.
  4. Plan for the Future: Early diagnosis allows individuals and families to make important decisions about the future, including legal, financial, and long-term care planning. Discussing preferences for care and making legal arrangements can provide peace of mind.
  5. Seek Support: Connect with local and national support organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, which offer resources, support groups, and educational programs. These organizations can provide valuable information and emotional support for both individuals with the disease and their caregivers.
  6. Participate in Research: Consider enrolling in clinical trials or research studies. These studies are essential for developing new treatments and understanding the disease better. Participation can also provide access to cutting-edge therapies and interventions.

By recognizing the early signs and symptoms and seeking timely medical advice about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, individuals can access treatments and support that can improve their quality of life. Education, early intervention, and community support are key to managing these conditions effectively.