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11.03.2014

Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease

November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness of this common, but devastating, disease and its impact on those affected. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which refers to conditions that include memory loss and other related symptoms that can interfere with a person’s day-to-day activities. By understanding more about this condition, it may be possible to identify potential risk factors or signs in loved ones and help them seek treatment sooner.

How common is Alzheimer’s disease?

Over 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, but more than 15 million family members and friends serve as caregivers for those with this condition. And new research shows that this disease may be the third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.

Who gets Alzheimer’s disease?

While it is possible for someone in their 40s or 50s to develop early onset Alzheimer’s disease, most people first show symptoms after age 65. Age, heredity and family history are among the top risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, but women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed.

What are the signs?

If you think you or a loved one may be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it’s critical to see a doctor as soon as possible. When Alzheimer’s is diagnosed early, treatment can be more effective in slowing the advancement of this progressive disease. Some of the more common signs of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Experiencing memory loss and confusion, including forgetting new information or important dates or events
  • Having difficulty or taking longer than usual to complete normal tasks
  • Losing things or misplacing items in unusual places
  • Displaying changes in mood or behavior, including withdrawal from usual activities

For more about early signs and how to tell the difference between typical age-related changes and potential sigs of Alzheimer’s, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website here.

Is it preventable?

Early research indicates that there is a possibility that Alzheimer’s disease may be preventable, but further research is needed to confirm these findings. In the meantime, while it is not possible to change age or hereditary factors, it is possible to lessen other risk factors to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Experts recommend healthy lifestyle changes, which not only reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s, but many other diseases as well:

  • Increase physical activity
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in nutrients
  • Maintain social connections and engagements with friends and family
  • Engage in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, playing games and puzzles, and art and music

Is there a cure?

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s.

How Health Advocate Can Help

If you’re a Health Advocate member, your Personal Health Advocate can help you make an appointment for yourself or a loved one to review any potential signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s with a doctor. Additionally, if you have access to the EAP+Work/Life program, a specialist can identify local resources to help if you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, including eldercare or support if you’re experiencing stress as a result of caregiving.

Other Helpful Resources

To learn more, please visit any of the websites below that provide additional information about Alzheimer’s disease: