September is Alzheimer’s (AD) Awareness Month, an international effort created to raise awareness and challenge the stigma associated with the heartbreaking disease through advocacy and education, and Abarca stands committed to the cause.
Alzheimer’s disease is the primary type of dementia, characterized by slow and gradual memory loss that is usually accompanied by problem-solving issues, difficulty with planning, organization, execution of everyday tasks, time and space disorientation, aphasia (trouble finding the right words), personality changes, and poor judgment. At more advanced stages, patients may completely lose their ability to communicate, perform daily activities, and ultimately lose independence, requiring full assistance of a caregiver.
With over 5 million Americans living with AD, it is as crucial as ever to get informed on the prevention and treatment of dementia, and to promote greater understanding of the disease and its symptoms so that it can be diagnosed and treated at an early stage.
The statistics surrounding Alzheimer’s disease are daunting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s is:
- The sixth most common cause of death among U.S. adults. It ranks fifth among causes of death for people 65 years and older.
- A study found that 4.7 million Americans over the age of 65 years had Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Those researchers projected that by 2050, there will be 13.8 million Americans with AD.
- In more than 90% of people with AD, symptoms do not appear until after age 60. The incidence of the disease increases with age and doubles every five years beyond age 65.
Although no cure for AD has yet to be found, there have been tremendous advances in scientific understanding on how the disease disrupts and affects the brain, which has led to potential treatments (currently in research phases) that target basic pathologic features of the disease. Therapies targeting many mechanisms of AD are now being studied.
Additionally, certain lifestyle habits may help to lower the risk of AD, including physical exercise (to help increase the brain’s oxygenation) and a healthy diet (low sugar and fat, rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and grains). Some studies have also shown that keeping a busy and active mind, along with maintaining a healthy social life, may also lower the chances of developing AD.
“The burden of this disease on the caregiver is huge and sometimes ignored. At advanced stages, not only do these patients require full care, they can be ungrateful, not remember their own family members, and may even be aggressive. Part of our awareness efforts should include acknowledging those heroes that day to day take care of those loved ones that once cared for them, and often do not receive a thank you. In my opinion, AD is one of the saddest diseases in existence,” said Suzette M. Vélez-Rivera, PharmD, BCACP, BCGP, and Director of Clinical Services at Abarca.
At Abarca, we believe the role of public health in advocating for the importance of cognitive health (a vital part of healthy aging and quality of life) is essential to fighting this disease, especially in this critical time where the U.S. population is rapidly aging. Opportunities for maintaining optimal cognitive health are growing as public health professionals gain a better understanding of cognitive decline risk factors. The public health community should embrace cognitive health as a priority, invest in its promotion, and move scientific discoveries rapidly into public health practice.
Raising awareness with a cup of coffee
The Un Cafe por Alzheimer’s initiative was founded in September 2014 from the shared interest of six health professionals who sought to encourage a dialogue about the disease amongst the Puerto Rican people, as at the time, it was still considered taboo.
The nonprofit organization provides an informal and relaxed environment where people can sit down and share a coffee while talking about AD with others who have also experienced its hardships and have their questions answered by informed experts. To this day, the nonprofit has impacted more than ten thousand people through their conversations and workshops, and have become a powerful voice advocating for the rights of people who have dementia and their caregivers. They have also set out to train carers and health professionals to provide the best possible care to the population they serve.
Abarca is dedicated to finding a better way in healthcare and finding solutions to improve the health, social, and economic burdens associated with cognitive decline in our communities. Let’s come together to honor the strength, passion and endurance of those facing this devastating disease.
Whether you are living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone with the disease, information and resources are available. You are not alone. We urge you to reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association’s local chapter near you. You may also wish to attend Conferencia Hablemos de Demencia, a conference coordinated in collaboration with the local PAHO office and the PR Department of Health. You can also read more about cognitive decline in Puerto Pico here (English or Spanish).