It has been called an epidemic.
As the U.S. populace ages, longer life spans have spurred an increase in Alzheimer’s disease, an ailment which affects more than 5 million Americans.
Once not recognized as a lethal ailment, Alzheimer’s is now classified as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Many of the 15 million caregivers for those afflicted are family members, on whom the mental toll can be immense.
“Alzheimer’s is one of our expanding and expensive medical problems,” said Kenneth Gibson, a doctor of osteopathic medicine for the NEOHealth clinic in Hulbert.
Most people with the disease are cared for at home, so it burdens families with intensive responsibilities. It also understandably distresses patients when they are diagnosed. People are fearful of the disease.”
While there are several forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common, believed to account for at least half of all cases of dementia.
Medications are available which can slow its progression for a few months, but the disease is incurable.
Tahlequah City Hospital houses its Alzheimer’s and Dementia Unit in its Medical Plaza, a wing of the complex which was added in 2008. Tests can be conducted to check for cognitive deterioration, and families can discuss with doctors treatments which may delay mental decline and extend quality of life. Options may include medication, exercise both mental and physical, and diet.
TCH also offers its Solutions program, which can provide mental health services to Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.
Alz.org, the Web site of the Alzheimer’s Association, lists 10 early indicators of the disease. Persons with any of these symptoms can visit their doctors for a simple cognition test:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life - short term memory suffers, and there is no recollection of newly learned information. In typical age-related memory loss, forgotten forgotten details are recalled when reminded.
• Challenges in planning or solving problems - tracking and paying bills or balancing a checkbook becomes difficult.
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure - a regular driving route may be forgotten.
• Confusion with time or place - forgetting how one got someplace, or not being able to recall the month or season. Forgetting the day of the week can be attributed to typical age-related memory loss.
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships - reading, judging distance, driving become difficult.
• New problems with words in speaking or writing - difficulty following conversations. Stopping in mid-sentence.
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps - sometimes this is accompanied by accusations of stealing.
• Decreased or poor judgment - this can be indicated by poor money management or less attention to personal hygiene.
• Withdrawal from work or social activities - commonly happens when an afflicted person recognizes changes in the cognitive abilities.
• Changes in mood and personality - confusion, suspicion, fear, anxiety and depression are common emotions in afflicted persons.
A pair of workshops are offered next month to train family members who serve as caregivers to loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Both are at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Tulsa at 4001 E. 101st St. The first workshop is Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. and the second is Oct. 12 at 9 a.m.