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November 12, 2010 > Learn More About Alzheimer's Disease

Learn More About Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Association Stresses Critical Need for Awareness, Research

Imagine watching your spouse, mother, father or other close family member drift away from you into a fog until you've lost the person you once knew and all that remains is an echo of their former self. For millions of families in the United States, this is a waking nightmare - it's called Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, which is characterized by progressive memory loss and decline in other intellectual abilities that is serious enough to interfere with daily life, represents a growing epidemic in the United States.


The potential to triple by 2050

November is recognized as National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month and it is critical that community members learn more about this devastating disease now - not later, according to Bill Fisher, CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, Northern California and Northern Nevada.


Why?

"There are 5.3 million Americans who have Alzheimer's disease-a number that is expected to triple by 2050 if communities don't act now," according to Fisher. "Alzheimer's has no cure and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S."

Most of the information known about Alzheimer's has been generated in just the past 20 years, he says. However, monies spent on cancer and heart disease research dwarf federal funding for Alzheimer's research.

After research funding, one of the biggest hurdles researchers must overcome is identifying clinical trial participants.

"People need to sign up for clinical trials so we can help develop treatments that can change the course of this disease," Fisher says.

For family members who want to find out if their loved one is eligible for a clinical trial, they can visit the Alzheimer's Association's clinical trial matching service at www.alz.org/trialmatch.


Common misconceptions

Despite greater knowledge of the disease gained during the past two decades, he says common misconceptions about the disease underscore the importance of greater awareness.

One of the most common misconceptions: that Alzheimer's an old person's disease. Not so, Fisher says.

"While risk of Alzheimer's increases as one ages, there are more than 200,000 individuals living with younger onset Alzheimer's-diagnosed before age 65," he notes.

Secondly, according to Fisher, is the belief that Alzheimer's is a normal part of aging. Memory changes do occur with age, but memory loss and behavioral changes that disrupt daily life could be Alzheimer's and should not be considered a normal part of aging.


Critical resources

"Early diagnosis of this disease is critical," he says. "Other than ruling out treatable causes of dementia, a careful diagnosis early in the disease allows families time to explore treatment options and plan for the future in terms of decision-making, finances and care. In addition, individuals and families can utilize the Alzheimer's Association's early stage programs.

"These programs foster a safe environment where people with the disease can come together to share coping strategies and support each other. An early diagnosis also provides the opportunity to advocate on behalf of other people with the disease to influence policies that will benefit future generations."

The Alzheimer's Association also offers a 24/7 toll-free helpline at (800) 272.3900, as well as support groups, educational classes, caregiver trainings and the MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program, a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer's who wander.


A brighter future

Still, the Alzheimer's Association has a positive message for families battling this disease.

"You are never alone," Fisher says. "The Alzheimer's Association is here to support families and individuals with the disease, educate professionals and the community, fund groundbreaking research and advocate for policies that will change the course of how people live with this disease.

"We do not believe our children and grandchildren have to choose between having Alzheimer's or caring for someone who does. But to make this possible, it is critical that we raise public concern for this cause through advocacy and public awareness-and we need your help as volunteers and voices for this cause."


Alzheimer's Support Group

For family members and caretakers of individuals with Alzheimer's, Washington Hospital offers a free monthly support group the last Wednesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, across the street from the main Hospital.

For more information, call (800) 963-7070 or visit www.whhs.com/supportgroups. To learn more about Alzheimer's disease, visit www.alz.org.

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