November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. Because of the condition's growing prevalence across the globe, it's important for healthcare professionals from all scopes of practice to have at least a basic understanding and awareness about Alzheimer's disease, to assist in outcomes for both patients and their caregivers. Here are some key points to know about this challenging yet manageable condition.5 Things To Know About Alzheimer's Disease
1. The numbers are significant--which means impact is significant.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, while the number of caregivers for people with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia exceeds 15 million. Accounting for up to 70% of people with dementia, this neuro-degenerative disease (which involves the progressive loss of brain cells) kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. All told, by the end of 2016, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia will have cost the United States nearly $240 billion in direct and indirect healthcare costs. Plus, almost one in every five Medicare dollars is spent on people with some form of dementia--a cost that is expected to rise in the coming decades.
2. It's not just the patients who are affected.
Since Alzheimer's is progressive in nature, this means that the burden on caregivers has the tendency to increase over time. Nearly 60% of family or friends caring for someone with Alzheimer's reports experiencing a high or very high level of emotional stress. Part of the healthcare professional's role is to connect caregivers with various community initiatives that assist helpers of people with dementia, including educational training, volunteer programs, adult daycare centers, clinical trials, and other local offerings.
3. Alzheimer's is not just an "old person's illness."
No form of dementia should be considered a "normal" part of aging. Moreover, while it's true that the vast majority of people with Alzheimer's are senior citizens (an estimated 1 in 9 people over the age of 65), it's been estimated that about 5% of diagnoses are considered early-onset. In real numbers, this means nearly 300,000 Americans in their 30s, 40s, or 50s are living with Alzheimer's. Screening is critical if there's a family history of early-onset dementia, while early intervention for people of all ages can improve outcomes.
4. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms is key.
It's important to educate all patients and their family members about early warning signs of dementia, including impaired problem solving, difficulty having a conversation, forgetting the time or place, frequently misplacing items, and social withdrawal. Depending on his or her role, a healthcare professional may also find it appropriate to talk to patients about certain risk factors for dementia--including family history, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and obesity--as a means of prevention and/or disease management.
5. There's no cure yet--but treatments are available. Extensive research is being done every month to help improve diagnostic, treatment, and disease management services of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. For example, in addition to five FDA-approved drugs that are currently used to help manage symptoms of Alzheimer's, clinical trials are being performed to assess the safety and effectiveness of new medications that address brain function and may impact the underlying causes of disease development.The healthcare professional can assist with these new developments by encouraging patients both with and without Alzheimer's to volunteer for clinical trials.
In reality, chances are high that virtually everyone working in the healthcare field--from private practices to specialty ambulatory surgical centers---knows at least one person professionally or personally afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. So stay informed and be sure to look out for local fundraisers and volunteer programs in your area that are leading the fight against Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.