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November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month!

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

“To love a person is to learn the song in their heart, and sing it to

them when they have forgotten”

-Arne Garborg



What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

A progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions. Brain cells and brain connections degenerate and die which cause a continuous decline in behavior, thinking and social skills. Memory loss and confusion are the main symptoms and can upset a person’s daily life and their ability to function independently.


Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, and sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Age is the major known risk factor for developing the disease with the majority of patients being over the age of 65, however, there are approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 that suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s.


There is currently no cure for this disease. Once diagnosed the average life span can range from four to eight years, however some patients have lived up to 20 years. This disease progresses at different rates so each person or family’s path will vary regarding type and level of care needed.



Some Important Facts:

  • Currently about 5.7 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease. This number is expected to reach 16 million by the year 2050.

  • Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. By 2050 this is projected to be every 33 seconds.

  • Worldwide about 50 million people have some form of dementia, and someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds.


Early (and late) Signs And Symptoms Of The Disease:


National Institute on Aging


Memory Loss

  • Repeat statements and questions over and over

  • Forget conversations, appointments or events, and not remember them later

  • Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations

  • Get lost in familiar places

  • Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects

  • Have trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations

Difficulty In Problem Solving Or Completing Routine Chores

  • Challenges in paying bills on time and balancing finances

  • Trouble following a recipe or cooking meals they are familiar with

  • Concentrating on a task such as writing down a grocery list

  • Putting things in unusual places and not remembering or able to retrace their steps

  • Accusing people of stealing misplaced items

Poor Judgments And Decisions

  • Dressing inappropriately for current weather or certain social engagements

  • Forgetting how to dress or bathe properly

Changes In Behavior Or Personality

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Mood swings

  • Social withdrawal

  • Aggressive behavior

  • Wandering

  • Reduced Inhibitions

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Paranoia


Disease Progression:

There are three stages of Alzheimer's disease. Similar to the signs and symptoms listed above, the stages each contain different levels of memory loss, behavior changes and assistance required to manage their lives.


Early-stage: is where a person can still independently and engage in social activities but experiences memory lapse such as forgetting words or remembering new names.


Moderate-stage: is most likely the longest stage of the disease and can last for years. People often experience confusion regularly which can cause frustration. People can often forget their address, telephone number. Forgot proper hygiene routines and repeat stories.


Late-stage: in this last stage, dementia symptoms are often severe. They may experience difficulty communicating and using language skills. They may not recognize family and friends, or hunger and thirst cues. They can also have trouble walking, sitting up and eventually swallowing.


Cost Of Care:

Alzheimers has been labeled as the “most expensive disease in America” according to a U.S News and World World report in 2014. Financing preparing yourself for costs associated with Alzheimer’s can be daunting and at times, unpredictable. Due to the progressive nature of this disease, and how each person’s journey is different, planning for the future may be difficult. Several studies that research expenses related to Alzheimer’s suggest the “out-of-pocket” cost is almost five times greater for people battling this disease and dementia than people without these conditions.


Things you may need to consider are:

  • Insurance coverage

  • Short/Long term care

  • Home care

  • Loss of productivity and lost wages for caretakers

  • Home safety measure (e.g. security cameras or other home modifications)

  • Other unforeseen out of pocket costs such as increased hospital visits/stays

  • Legal work and documents (e.g. wills, house deeds, social security information, custody battles)

Stress For Caretakers:

All this information can be daunting but there are tools available to manage stress. You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of your loved one. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, you may be burnout and suffering yourself.

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Too much or little sleep

  • Mood swings (frustration, ander, irritability)


Stress For Caretakers:

All this information can be daunting but there are tools available to manage stress. You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of your loved one. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, you may be burnout and suffering yourself.

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Too much or little sleep

  • Mood swings (frustration, ander, irritability)

It is better if there is a way the whole family can be involved should a loved one be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and later develop dementia but that may not always be the case. In those situations, self care is paramount. I am always a big fan of guided meditation. This allows me to check in with how my body is feeling in relation to my current state of mind. You can find several free options online and there are several apps you can download for free. Even the paid subscriptions offer free meditation sessions so if you are new to it, you can explore what is a good fit for you. This is how I got started myself. (For more detailed information, please see my April blog post for “stress Awareness Month”)


Exercise is always helpful to increase blood circulation and release endorphins. Endorphins have been shown to improve mood and boost energy for up to three hours after exercise. Exercise is a 2 for 1 since it helps with your waistline and overall physical health, in addition to your emotional health.


There are support groups for caregivers if you need to talk with people who are dealing with the same situations you are going through. Professional help is also an option if you’d prefer to speak with a therapist.


Make time for things that you enjoy. Whether it’s taking a long hike in the woods, or watching a movie at home, don’t forget to spend some time on yourself. A little respite can be very refreshing and can do you (and your loved one) a world of good.

I did not know until researching this topic that there are programs where you can become an educated caregiver. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a program to provide you with detailed information, much in regards to what I have mentioned already from recognizing early signs of Alzheimer's or dementia, to healthy living, and legal strategies/financial planners so you are prepared for what the future may bring. Becoming an educated caregiver may offer you the necessary tools you need to move forward in caring for yourself and your loved one with confidence.



Nutrition And Alzheimer’s:

Many studies suggest that poor diet and eating habits can affect the brain (in addition to the whole body). A healthy diet has a lot to do with chronic disease prevention. Diets high in saturated fats, and red meat can cause inflammation in the system and create oxidative stress from free radicals, which can cause damage to the cells.


Antioxidants can counteract damage that oxidative stress causes and may help reduce inflammation. Foods that contain rich sources of antioxidants are:

  • Dark leafy greens

  • Fruit (berries in particular)

  • Vegetables

  • Beans

  • Whole grains

  • Omega 3 rich fatty fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel)

  • Nuts and olive oil (good unsaturated fat choices)

Some baseline diets to begin with are the Mediterranean diet which incorporates all the foods listed above. The DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) focuses on limiting high fat dairy, meats, oils, sodium (salt) and sugary sweets and beverages. Both diets are designed to help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol HDL and LDL counts, which in turn may reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.


A noteworthy mention is that researchers are continuing to explore the relationship between the gut microbiome and the brain. This could potentially help healthcare professionals to further understand the biology of Alzheimer’s and develop new pathways to treat it. A few good sources for the gut are:

  • Non-fat plain yogurt/kefir - add you favorite berries for more of an antioxidant punch

  • Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha are great (but they are an acquired taste for most)

  • Garlic and ginger contain anti-inflammatory properties and can increase good gut bacteria.

First, talk with your doctor and registered dietitian regarding any interest in dietary changes and possible vitamin/antioxidant supplements. They can help you find a plan that is a good fit for your lifestyle.



Helpful And Informative Sources For You To Explore:




You may find yourself feeling isolated or alone in the battle against Alzheimer’s but help is available. Always reach out if you need support And remember….Health starts from the inside out. To discuss more detailed information regarding the topics within this blog, or to inquire about customized nutrition plans, please reach out to Cathleen Winter at wellnesswithin.cw@gmail.com


A Little About Me:

My name is Mary DeBlasio, and I live in Silver Spring, MD. I am currently a student studying Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of the District of Columbia. I am set to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in May of 2021. I am very interested in mindful eating, and foods that correlate with the seasons. My goal after graduation is to pursue a dietetic internship with a focus on clinical dietetics. I am interested in transplant, renal and gastrointestinal issues. All the information presented within this blog is backed by the credible sources cited below.


Sources:

Alzheimer's and Dementia. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.alz.org/alzheimer_s_dementia


Alzheimer's disease. (2018, December 08). Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447



Alzheimer's Foundation of America. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://alzfdn.org/what-is-alzheimers-disease/


Alzheimer's Disease Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9164-alzheimers-disease/prevention

Morris, M. C. (2009).


The role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s disease: Epidemiological evidence. European Journal of Neurology, 16, 1-7. doi:10.1111/j.1468-1331.2009.02735.x


What Do We Know About Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease? (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-do-we-know-about-diet-and-prevention-alzheimers-disease









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