June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

alzheimer's awareness monthAnd brain health awareness, too!

At this time, there is no drug or treatment to prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia. The best advice is that what is good for your heart is good for your brain, too.

Related post: Don’t buy supplements to prevent Alzheimer’s

Embracing a healthy lifestyle is our best chance to reduce the risk of developing dementia as we age.

That means moderate physical exercise every day, a calorie-appropriate diet full of a wide variety of nutrients, and lots of mental stimulation.

Related post: Do “brain games” prevent dementia?

Socializing and mental exercises help improve brain “plasticity,” the ability to change and adapt. This type of “cognitive reserve” might explain the results of the famous Nun Study.

Researchers followed a group of Catholic nuns for over ten years. They periodically tested the nuns for signs of cognitive decline—dementia—as they aged. As part of the study, the nuns agreed to have their brains autopsied.

What was interesting about the results is that some of the nuns’ brains showed the characteristic plaques of Alzheimer’s disease, but the nuns had not been diagnosed with dementia.

The theory is that lifestyle choices that increase brain plasticity may significantly slow down the progression of dementia.

Other factors, such as aging and genetics, we can’t alter. But we can take some responsibility for our diet and exercise habits.

The care giving burden

I just read a troubling article that the death rate from Alzheimer’s disease is growing, up 55% since 1999. That’s mostly because we are living longer, and age is the greatest risk factor for dementia.

What bothered me the most, I think, is that the number of dementia patients dying at home increased from 14% to 25%. That means a lot more spouses and adult children are assuming the role of caregiver, and that is a huge burden for a family.

If it’s the family’s choice to keep a loved one at home and find all the necessary resources to make that work, I applaud their commitment. It’s not easy. Neither Medicare nor our healthcare system help much with long-term care.

I know from experience with my father that memory care facilities can be extremely expensive. In Seattle, average monthly costs can be well over $10,000. Medicare  does not pay for long-term care; it’s all out of pocket unless you have one of the increasingly rare long-term care insurance policies. (Companies lose money so they don’t want to sell these policies anymore, or they put so many restriction on them, they aren’t worth the high premiums.)

Anyway, how many people can afford that? I can’t help but believe the growing number of dementia patients dying at home is because assisted care is just financially out of reach for so many.

Staying at home is an option, but often not the best. The physical demands of caring full-time for a patient with Alzheimer’s are huge, especially for an elderly and frail spouse. The job is 24/7, too. Even the most loving and committed caregivers will wear out.

Luckily, there are some resources to help worn out caregivers. In a recent article about caregivers, Kaiser Health News listed these resources to try:

I would also encourage everyone to contact their state lawmakers and insurance commissioners. Let them know how Alzheimer’s has affected your family.

As our healthcare system continues to be overhauled (for better or worse), dementia patients and their caregivers need to be remembered.

Sláinte,

Frugal Nurse

Here are some more brain health resources!

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Comments

June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month — 2 Comments

  1. Another important resource when providing care for people living with Alzheimer’s disease is Hospice. They offer support to both the individual and his/her caregivers, and the earlier services are initiated the better.

    • Hi Diane, thanks for the comment! I agree about hospice…we got hospice involved with my dad as soon as he had a diagnosis that met eligibility criteria. In his case, he had stopped eating and was losing weight. But at any time you can ask for a hospice consult and a nurse and/or social worker will come to your home or the care facility and make an evaluation. The caregivers at my dad’s assisted living facility really appreciated the extra support, as did my mom. Even better, we were able to prevent multiple transfers to the emergency room during his final weeks. Hospice gave us much more control over an already difficult situation. Haha, obviously I am a big fan of hospice care! Thanks again, FN

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