The Greater Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has, among its many goals, the desire to spread accurate information about the disease to as much of the public as possible.
Toward that end, Program Specialist Susan Callison made a nearly one-hour presentation to a gathering at the Spring Valley Campus of the Perry Lutheran Home Wednesday, debunking several myths about the disease while focusing on the value of early detection.
“Nothing is of greater importance in dealing with AD (Alzheimer’s Disease) than detecting it as early as possible,” Callison said. “If we knew our health was going to change, we would make different decisions on how we would live our lives, and detecting AD early gives you that opportunity. Many who are diagnosed with AD in the early stages can live independently for several years, but the need to be correctly diagnosed early, and knowing what the early indicators are — and are not — is vital.”
Callison noted that dementia is medically defined as a decline in cognitive functioning, and while not all such cases diagnosed are actually AD, some 70 percent are.
“Discerning the difference between normal memory loss — which effects every one as they age — and true dementia is the key,” she said. “AD is a progressive disease that destroys some brain cells but leaves others intact. It will effect 1-in-9 adults in the U.S. over age 65, and for those older than 85 the odds are 1-in-3 to be effected by the disease.”
While genetics can be a factor (and is, in some five percent of cases), incidents of heart disease, blood vessel damage, mid-life diabetes and head injury are far more likely to increase the risk factor of contracting AD.
Callison detailed the 10 warning signs of AD, beginning with memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems and difficulty completing familiar tasks.
“This is not about forgetting where you put your car keys,” she said. “This is more about finding your keys in a place you have never left them. It is about forgetting how to do something you have done every day, those kind of things.”
Confusion with time or place, trouble understanding visual images and in judging distances and spatial relationships and problems finding the proper words to speak or write with are other indicators, as are misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace steps, along with decreased or poor judgment.
Other early signs include a withdrawal from work or social activities and noticeable — sometimes a complete reversal — of mood and personality.
Family and friends can often be the first to spot the signs, and discussing the possibility that one or more signs might lead to seeing a doctor is crucial.
“For too long people have been embarrassed or unwilling to talk openly about Alzheimer’s and we have to correct that,” Callison said. “There are medicines and routines that can greatly increase the independence of someone who is diagnosed early with AD. In some cases it can make several years worth of difference, so recognizing the signs and understanding the difference between the disease and the normal effects of aging is vitally important.”
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