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Thursday, September 12, 2024

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: 4 Things You Should Know

Did you know November is Alzheimer’s awareness month? Knowing more about Alzheimer’s can help you make healthy choices to lower your risk or manage the disease if it already impacts you or a loved one.

From risk factors to encouraging medical advances, there’s a lot to learn. Start with these four facts:

1. Alzheimer’s can impact anyone, but some people are at higher risk

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia in older age, and impacts people in every part of the US.

There are demographic trends: The disease is more common in women than men, and more common in African-Americans and Hispanics than in whites or Asian-Americans. If you belong to one of the higher-risk groups, it’s especially important to talk to your doctor about memory screening. If memory loss begins to go beyond occasional absent-mindedness, don’t dismiss it as “just a natural part of aging” — make an appointment.

2. Alzheimer’s progresses over time, so diagnosing it in the early stage has benefits

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. If you or someone you love is diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s, prompt treatment may be able to slow the progression of the disease or lessen the symptoms. There is no known way to cure or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s overall, but these treatments can improve quality of life.

Many people with Alzheimer’s are still able to participate in many activities they enjoy. Maintaining an active social life, physical fitness routine and mentally-stimulating activities as much as possible can have benefits for people with the disease.

Scientists are making progress in the fight against Alzheimer’s — and you may be able to help

For Alzheimer’s awareness to make a real difference, we also need scientific progress.

Even though there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s, treatments have improved significantly over the past few decades. For many people, the medications that are available can slow the progress of memory loss and other Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Just this year, new studies have been released on the role of tau, a brain protein, in the development of Alzheimer’s and how maintaining healthy blood pressure can help prevent memory loss. A drug currently in clinical trials is showing the potential to slow the rate of cognitive changes in people with Alzheimer’s.

If you want to help advance scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, look for clinical trials you can join or support. Great Lakes Clinical Trials, just down the street from Wesley Place, is currently recruiting healthy adults with a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s to research possible prevention methods. You can also support the Alzheimer’s Association, which funds research. Every year, Chicago Methodist Senior Services participates in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s to help raise funds for the organization.

Research isn’t just about medical treatment, but also about helping improve the experience of people with Alzheimer’s and their families. After observing CMSS residents with Alzheimer’s, Embodied Labs created the Beatriz Lab, a virtual reality experience that helps caregivers and family members better understand Alzheimer’s disease.

Care that emphasizes the arts can enrich the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s

The arts can make a real difference in how people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of memory loss feel. Artistic expression and engaging with art can have both mental and emotional benefits.

Art and music therapy, in which a trained therapist leads art or music projects or experiences, is especially helpful. Here at CMSS, Arts Programming Coordinator Jenn Ross, who is also an art therapist, has developed a variety of therapy programs based in the visual arts. These programs offer opportunities for self-expression, and can reduce anxiety for people with Alzheimer’s. For some, they can also bring up memories and spark conversations about them.

In addition to art therapy, regular opportunities to enjoy art and music can give people with Alzheimer’s a better quality of life. That’s why we host outings to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Art Institute of Chicago and more. We also have regular art classes where CMSS residents can express their creativity, and our partnership with Musicians on Call brings world-class musicians to our communities.

Alzheimer’s awareness is just the start: Take action

If you or someone you care about is living with Alzheimer’s or is at high risk of developing it, there are many excellent resources available. Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement offer information on how to lower your risk, caregiving advice and more.

If you haven’t already, start having conversations about the types of care or assistance you and your loved ones may want in the future. To learn more about memory care at CMSS, read about our memory care assisted living community, Hartwell Place, and our long-term skilled nursing community for advanced memory loss, Wesley Place.

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