Those living with Alzheimer’s encourage earlier conversations about disease warning signs
June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer’s Association and advocates in the early stages of the disease are teaming up to encourage families to talk about memory and cognition concerns sooner, rather than later, a news release explained.
These advocates know first-hand that an early diagnosis offers many benefits, including access to more effective medical and lifestyle interventions and the ability to take an active role in planning with family members for the future.
UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE OF AN EARLY ALZHEIMER’S DIAGNOSIS
There are many medical, financial, emotional and social benefits to receiving an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis for both those living with the disease and their families, including:
— Accurate diagnosis – Can help determine if someone’s cognitive changes are truly due to Alzheimer’s or some other, perhaps even treatable, condition.
— Medical benefits – Allows individuals to explore medications for memory loss, sleep changes and behavior changes resulting from the disease, as well as to adopt lifestyle changes that may help preserve their existing cognitive function for as long as possible, such as controlling one’s blood pressure, smoking cessation and exercise.
— Participation in clinical trials – Enables individuals to enroll in clinical trials that advance research and may provide medical benefits.
— Planning for the future – Allows individuals more time to plan for the future while they are cognitively able to make legal, financial and end-of-life decisions.
— Emotional and social benefits – Provides individuals with the best opportunity to spend time doing meaningful activities and interacting with the most important people in their lives. It can also open doors to many educational and support programs.
Jan Haberer, a local member of the Alzheimer’s Association DNTX Early-Stage Advisory Group, composed of people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in the Dallas and Northeast Texas area, shared her story in the release.
“While working as a project manager, I started to notice my performance declining. I was making mistakes and forgetting things which were uncharacteristic for me. My husband, Randy, and I spent more than six months going to multiple doctors eliminating potential physical issues before I was finally diagnosed with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment),” Haberer said.
“This was very difficult news to digest after going through the journey with my mother less than 10 years ago. Since I was still working and didn’t know how my employer would react, we didn’t share my diagnosis right away,” she continued. “We believe there is still a lot of confusion out there as far as how companies should handle cognitive issues.”
Haberer’s husband Randy agreed.
“Not being able to share Jan’s diagnosis made it more difficult to process and accept. Once we filed for disability, and we were able to share our story, it was a big relief and helped us discuss it with more family and friends,” he explained. “I feel blessed we received an early diagnosis and I am convinced that is the reason why Jan’s condition has stabilized. That is why we try to help educate people as much as possible and encourage them to get a diagnosis as soon as they can.”
THE 10 WARNING SIGNS
“Unfortunately, there still exists a stigma about Alzheimer’s and other dementia which interfere with an individual or family seeking help when they begin to notice memory challenges,” said Debra Adams, community relations director of the Alzheimer’s Association Dallas and Northeast Texas Chapter. “Early diagnosis is critical to creating a support system that will enhance quality of life for those faced with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or related dementia.”
To help people understand early symptoms of Alzheimer’s or behaviors that merit discussion, the Alzheimer’s Association offers 10 Warning Signs. The release explained that should these signs appear, it is important to talk about them with the person experiencing symptoms and encourage them to speak with a medical professional.
The signs are as follows:
— Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
— Challenges in planning or solving problems.
— Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
— Confusion with time or place.
— Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
— New problems with words in speaking or writing.
— Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
— Decreased or poor judgment.
— Withdrawal from work or social activities.
— Changes in mood and personality.
For more detail about each of the signs, and to see how these symptoms compare to typical age-related changes, visit alz.org/10-signs-symptoms-alzheimers-dementia.asp.
TIPS FOR STARTING THE CONVERSATION
The Alzheimer’s Association Dallas & Northeast Texas Chapter, along with the North Central Texas Chapter, shares six tips for approaching conversations about Alzheimer’s symptoms during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in June:
— Have the conversation as early as possible
— Think about who’s best suited to have the conversation
— Practice conversation starters
— Offer support and companionship
— Anticipate gaps in self-awareness
— Recognize the conversation may not go as planned
For more information on these tips, visit alz.org/6Tips. For more information about the Alzheimer’s Association, visit alz.org or call the free 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.