Alzheimer’s seminars to educate, attune our compassionate community

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Gosh darn it! Where did I put that important file? Who is this person coming toward me that I know I should know but I sure can’t remember his name? Shoot, what is the word I’m trying to recall?

What’s the difference? When is it a sign of Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, and when is it a typical behavior that’s related to normal aging?

The thought of being diagnosed or having a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is a scary thing, but what’s the reality of the disease versus the myth? What misconceptions do I have? What’s the truth about Alzheimer’s? What fears may fall away if I possess the facts?

Alzheimer’s disease is not just forgetfulness and should not be confused with aging. For one thing, the memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s is more severe and progressive than typical age-related memory loss. Further, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease of the brain that leads not only to memory problems but also loss of cognitive abilities and personality changes.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. It kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In 2015 more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care valued at over $221.3 billion.

“For millions of Americans, the heartbreak of watching a loved one struggle with Alzheimer’s disease is a pain they know all too well,” said U.S. President Barack Obama. “Alzheimer’s disease burdens an increasing number of our nation’s elders and their families, and it is essential that we confront the challenges it poses to our public health.”

It might be tempting to choose a head-in-the-sand approach to Alzheimer’s since there is currently no cure, but early detection is beneficial. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s,there are medications to treat symptoms and steps that can be taken to support and comfort the person as the disease progresses.

It’s empowering for people to be able to make their own decisions and plan their care, to communicate what they want their future to be. These important planning steps cannot take place without a proper diagnosis.

The vision of the Alzheimer’s Association is “a world without Alzheimer’s.” Currently, it’s impossible to imagine someone who hasn’t been, isn’t currently or won’t at some point in the future be impacted by Alzheimer’s.

Education can help us develop communities in which people with dementia are able to live, age and thrive. If each of us can acquire a basic understanding of the disease, then think how respectful and compassionate a community we could build for those dealing with dementia — both within and outside our families.

What if when encountering the agitated friend, we knew to not argue with our friend but to change the subject. What if when we ran into an uncle downtown, we didn’t quiz him about our name but told him who we were and how happy we were to see him.

What if our store clerks, bank tellers, police officers and other residents of Perry could recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s among our co-residents and were educated enough to act compassionately and respectfully? How great of a community would that be? It would be one where the stigma of the disease is chipped away and replaced with informed, respectful reactions.

Please become a more educated, attuned community member for those among us dealing with dementia. An easy first step could be attending two free and open to the public — cookies provided! — workshops delivered by Program Specialist Susan Callison with the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Iowa Chapter and sponsored by the Perry Lutheran Home Main Campus and Spring Valley Campus.

Both sessions are perfect for community members, caregivers and anyone interested in learning the basics of Alzheimer’s, advancing understanding and dispelling common myths. Please plan to attend either or both workshops.

The “Basics of Alzheimer’s” will take place Wednesday, Aug. 24 from 6-7 p.m. at the Perry Lutheran Home.

The following week, Wednesday, Aug. 31, “Know the 10 Warning Signs” will be presented from 6-7 p.m. at the Spring Valley Campus.

I hope to see you there on our way to a world free from Alzheimer’s.

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