Senior Moments, or Alzheimer’s?

Elderly LadyOur memory is a big part of what makes us human. One of the biggest fears many people have as they get older is the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s or some other dementia. And it’s not only the impact on memory directly, but on one’s ability to remain independent, to interact with loved ones, and to enjoy even the simple things that give our lives meaning.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in this country. One in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia. Direct costs of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States will top $203 billion this year. And the value of care given by unpaid caregivers is estimated at over another $200 billion each year. Clearly this is a big problem. And it’s getting bigger. For more facts and figures, check this Alzheimer’s Association summary.

But these numbers don’t really touch on the personal cost of dementia. Many of both the patients and family members affected feel like Alzheimer’s steals what should be some of the most meaningful years of one’s life. Family members put careers on hold. Financial savings are wiped out. And the physical and emotional toll of caregiving becomes overwhelming.

Medical science has made some intriguing inroads into the world of brain science and dementia, but there are still no truly effective treatments to cure, delay, or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. We need some scientific breakthroughs to stop the personal and economic cost of this life-altering tragedy.

We do, however, know a number of lifestyle factors that can lessen one’s risk of dementia, and keep one’s brain healthy. Think of it this way: what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. Physical exercise, good nutrition, and ongoing mental activity are just as important for brain health as they are for your body.

For those impacted right now by Alzheimer’s, I want to remind you of your value as a person regardless of your memory. If you are hearing this and are worried you are on the road to dementia, remember that God cares about you more than you can understand.

And for all caregivers, I salute you! You choose to invest in the life of someone who may never be able to fully thank you. You are, as it were, the hands of the angels God sends to care for one of His vulnerable children. And He will reward you richly one day. In the meantime, remember to take care of yourself as well.

We as individuals and as a society will be judged in part by how we care for those most vulnerable. And don’t forget – there’s a chance you may need that same kind of help one day.

On the most recent Dr Carol Show we talk about dementia, Alzheimer’s, the difference between normal aging and these disorders, the costs involved, and the challenges of caregiving. The three-minute Saturday Memo gives some specific highlights, as in this post. And the full archive is available here. Joining us on the program is Dr James Powers, Director of the Vanderbilt-Reynolds Geriatrics Education Center and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at Vanderbilt University. You will appreciate his knowledgeable and kind approach to these problems.

For more help related to Alzheimer’s and dementia, here are some resources you may find helpful:

Your Turn: If you knew you would develop dementia, would you do anything differently now?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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