CATES: Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

By Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN

Chief Nursing Officer

Odessa Regional Medical Center

Some people call Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia the “long goodbye” because they are conditions that can last for years and sometimes the person suffering from those conditions loses their memory of their loved ones long before their bodies stop functioning. When I try to explain Alzheimer’s to others, I usually call it the “forgetting disease.” Because people with Alzheimer’s tend to forget things in the reverse order that they learned them. That means they tend for forget the most recent things first, and the last things they forget are the first things they learned, how to walk, talk, and even eat and breathe. The long goodbye or the forgetting disease is a nice way of putting a process that is incredibly difficult for patients and families. That is why awareness is so important. Alzheimer’s and dementia symptom progression can be delayed when they are found early, and even better, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, scientists feel they are very close to finding a cure.

The Alzheimer’s Association has published a list of 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Dementia on their website. Those early sings are: 1) Memory loss that disrupts daily life. 2) Challenges in planning or solving problems. 3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks. 4) Confusion with time or place. 5) Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. 6) New problems with words in speaking or writing. 7) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. 8) Decreased or poor judgement. 9) Withdrawal from work or social activities. 10) Changes in mood and personality. Please go to their site for more details because they not only talk about early symptoms, but how to distinguish those symptoms from normal aging. The site also has information about what to do if you see these issues in yourself or others. A good first step is to have a conversation with your primary health care provider if you are concerned about Alzheimer’s or dementia.

There are things you can do to lower risk of decreasing mental capacity, and possibly prevent or delay Alzheimer’s’ and dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests these 10 heathy habits for your brain:

  1. Challenge your mind. I have no research driven proof, but I firmly believe that people who do nothing but sit in front of a TV all day eventually get dementia. I’ve seen more times than I can count, when people stop learning or being creative, their brains stop retaining information. Research does show that people who challenge their minds have many short- and long-term benefits in brain health. So, challenge your mind and try to learn a new skill or focus on a hobby or other activity that allows you to be creative.
  2. Stay in school. Education reduces the risk of dementia, so encourage kids to stay in school and get the highest-level training they can. Continue to be a life-long learner by taking classes to enhance your skills or learn new ones. You can find classes at low costs or even free at libraries, community colleges, or online.
  3. Get moving. Regular exercise increases the blood flow to your brain. You can build exercise into your day by parking farther away in parking lots and walking, taking a dance break, gardening even adding things into the challenge your mind and stay in school points by taking a class where you learn a new form of exercise like yoga or tai chi.
  4. Protect your head. Wear helmets for biking or skating and wear a seatbelt when you are in a vehicle. Use protective equipment when engaging in sports. Do what you can to prevent falls, especially in older adults.
  5. If you smoke, stop. Quitting smoking reduces the risk of dementia and it’s never to late to stop.
  6. Control your blood pressure.
  7. Manage diabetes.
  8. Eat right. A diet high in fruits and vegetables with lean proteins and limited fats and processed foods can reduce the risk of mental decline and dementia.
  9. Maintain a healthy weight. This as well as eating right controlling blood pressure and exercise, not only reduces your risk of dementia, but many other conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, and stroke, just to name a few.
  10. Sleep well. A healthy sleep routine can reduce the risk of mental decline. If you have sleep-related conditions such as snoring or sleep apnea, speak to your health care provider about how treating those conditions can improve your sleep and overall health.

This month, talk to your loved ones about steps you can take to improve your brain health and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you have concerns or questions or want more information the Alzheimer’s Association website is a great place to start, but don’t stop there. Talk to your primary health care provider about the right steps for you to keep a healthy brain.