What is it about the word “Alzheimer’s” that tends to put us on edge? Is it not knowing what to say to the person when they tell you they have it? Is it because we don’t know how to react when someone acts out verbally or physically in a way that is considered to be not socially acceptable? Do we suddenly look at our friend and think “terminal”? Does it bring to the surface your concerns about your own memory issues?
For a large number of the population, one or more of these scenarios probably rings true. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is scary — there’s no way to minimize the impact it has on the person, family and friends.
More than 5.4 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease with an estimated care cost of over $200 billion in 2012. Every 68 seconds, another American will develop Alzheimer’s. More than 15 million family and friends provided over 17 billion hours of unpaid care to loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias at an economic value of more than $210 billion.
Alzheimer’s is only one of the many types of dementia and causes problems with memory, thinking, behavior and managing even the simplest of basic life tasks. It is the most common form of dementia (accounting for 50-80 percent of dementia cases). Two abnormal structures called plaques (deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that build up in the spaces between nerve cells) and tangles (twisted fibers of another protein called tau that build up inside cells) are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells.
It’s the destruction and death of those nerve cells that causes memory failure, personality changes, problems carrying out daily activities and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. As damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.
Current diagnosis of Alzheimer’s relies largely on documenting mental decline. We now know that Alzheimer’s already has caused severe brain damage in individuals who meet the criteria for mental decline. Researchers are hoping to discover an easy and accurate way to detect Alzheimer’s before these devastating symptoms begin. Experts believe that biomarkers (short for “biological markers”) offer one of the most promising paths. Biomarkers are reliable predictors and indicators of a disease process. They include proteins in blood or spinal fluid, genetic variations (mutations) or brain changes detectable by imaging. There are currently no validated biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease, but researchers are investigating several promising candidates.
More than 100 research studies pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are under way.
Neuroimaging is one of the most promising areas of research focused on early detection. Extensive research suggests that various imaging technologies may be able to detect hallmark changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the brains of living individuals.
Scientists have identified three genes with rare variations that cause Alzheimer’s and several genes that increase risk but don’t guarantee that a person will develop the disease.
You can help support the movement to find an end to Alzheimer’s right here on the North Olympic Peninsula. Join us in the 2012 NOP “Walk To End Alzheimer’s” on Saturday, Sept. 29, in Sequim. There are many opportunities for you to help: Be a sponsor, volunteer, rent a vendor table at the event, form a team, make a donation, support our fundraising activities, come out and cheer as we walk.
Please visit our booth at the Open Aire Market on Saturdays to learn more about Alzheimer’s and the “Walk.” “Get Grounded in The Fight Against Alzheimer’s” by supporting local coffee stands through Aug. 26 in their fundraising efforts — just look for the big yellow and white inflatable coffee mug.
Give generously when you see our purple donation cans at businesses throughout the NOP. Eat at Applebee’s during our “Dine To Donate” fundraiser — tentatively set for Sept. 5 (call, e-mail, or check Facebook for date confirmation). Go “Casual For a Cause” in the workplace.
For more information on the NOP “Walk To End Alzheimer’s,” call 461-3402, e-mail email@example.com, or go online to act.alz.org/nop. Like us on Facebook – Alzheimer’s Walk of NOP.
I encourage everyone to learn more about this devastating disease and to support the efforts to help find ways to slow the progression, then find a cure and ultimately eliminate Alzheimer’s completely. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association national website at www.alz.org and the Alzheimer’s Association Western/Central Washington site at www.alz.org/alzwa, for more information, assistance, support, education, and more.
** NOTE: Most of the clinical information, descriptions, and statistics in this article come from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Contributing correspondent Pam Scott is the co-chairman for the 2012 NOP “Walk To End Alzheimer’s” and the Community Relations Director for Discovery Memory Care in Sequim.
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