While making my way through the checkout at Target recently, an item in the magazine rack caught my eye. It was a special edition of Time magazine titled, "The Science of Alzheimer's. What it is. How it touches us. Hope."
I grabbed it immediately, started paging through it and knew I needed to read it. I wasn't thrilled with the price, $14.99, (I am a cheapskate) but at the encouragement of my husband, I bought it.
For those who may not know, my mom, Leona, died on March 11, 2017. She had been diagnosed with dementia and a plethora of other diseases. And my dad, Celestine, who everyone called "Red," died on July 3, 2017. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
That is why the magazine grabbed my attention. The past two years without them has been harder than I ever imagined.
And although they are gone, I still want to learn about the diseases that took them away from their families long before they died.
I learned a lot through reading that magazine and I will share some of it, but I first want to give a piece of advice that I believe is the most important thing for family members and friends to do for their loved ones suffering from this ugly disease. It is also the hardest.
I cannot stress enough that you have to live in their world. Never ever argue with them, correct them or disagree with them. You have to join the reality that is theirs. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is automatic to correct them. But please, please don't. Believe me when I say, it is the best thing you can do for them.
Now, to the magazine. If you have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia, I encourage you to pick up a copy. Or at the very least, do some research on the subject; it definitely helps.
The number of people affected by this dreadful disease is staggering. Worldwide, an estimated 47 million have it. And in the U.S., nearly 6 million people have it. That's just insane.
Alzheimer's is the most common cause of age-related dementia, which is an umbrella term for a variety of cognitive struggles - from memory loss to confused thinking - that impair day-to-day life, according to one article in the magazine. The article stated that 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. over the age of 65 has Alzheimer's. It is the sixth leading cause of death nationwide.
The tragic part? Currently, there is no cure and no treatments that can make it a long-term, manageable condition. A professor of neurology from Harvard Medical School was quoted in the article that we, as a society, are facing an epidemic of Alzheimer's.
That scares me. Having two parents with the disease scared me so much, that I went to the doctor to find out what I could do to see if I would end up with it. There isn't a magic test that determines yes or no, but I did have some neurological testing done, which provided a baseline of my cognitive function. It was super interesting and provided good information for my doctor. And although I still have no idea if I will, in fact, end up with Alzheimer's, I am glad I went through the testing. If anything, it gave me a peace of mind that my forgetfulness - at least for now - is a normal part of the aging process.
In the magazine, it stated that genetically determined Alzheimer's is one of the rarest and accounts for less than 1 percent of overall cases. Most often, the disease is more sporadic and caused by a suite of variables, including age, overall health and environmental factors.
Did you know that Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia and that it accounts for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases? From another article in the magazine, I learned that the dramatic cognitive decline that is its signature is caused by a buildup of plaques in the brain as well as twisted strands of a protein called tau, which is often referred to as "tangles."
For those in the early stages of Alzheimer's, they have a difficult time remembering names and conversations and as it progresses, it can cause problems like confusion, disorientation and difficulty speaking, swallowing and even walking.
So what can be done? There are some lifestyle changes that can help, like reducing the risk of heart disease, which means treating hypertension, high lipids, cholesterol, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Exercising and getting enough sleep are also helpful, as is learning new things and actively engaging your brain, being social and engaging in group activities. Another important factor is treating depression. Depression is linked to twice the risk of cognitive decline.
Although I did my fair share of research when my parents were diagnosed, I still learned a ton from reading the 96-page magazine.
And even though my parents are dead and gone and I miss them like crazy, I will continue to read up on this dreadful disease. And if you have been impacted by it, I highly encourage you to do the same.
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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.