Fear, hopelessness, overwhelmed — those are just some of the feelings one may have if a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
A talk on Feb. 28 called “Community Matters,” presented by the Connecticut Alzheimer’s Association, addressed those feelings, as well as other topics related to Alzheimer’s.
The presentation, which was attended by more than 50 people, was held at the Darien Senior Center. It was given by Shanon Jordan, a social worker and the southwestern regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Connecticut chapter.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers services, support, education, information, and referrals to people with Alzheimer’s and their families and other related dementias.
According to Jordan, dementia is a decline in cognitive ability that’s severe enough to affect the way people safely live their life.
Jordan spoke about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia. “Dementia is an umbrella. Underneath that umbrella are all different types of dementia. There are upwards of 80 different types of dementia,” she said. “Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.”
The single greatest factor of Alzheimer’s disease is age, she said. “The older we get, the greater our risk is for getting Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. Women are at a greater risk because they live longer.
Those in the audience gave some terms that people often use to describe Alzheimer’s. These include second childhood, crazy, old-timers, senility, and senior moments.
There is a stigma that those who are diagnosed with dementia face, according to Jordan.
“Any time you have a disease of the brain, many don’t want to share,” Jordan said. “We’re not embarrassed to talk about our heart disease, our cancer diagnosis, but the second it involves our brain, there’s a stigma of how the world is going to perceive us, how our neighbors are going to perceive us.”
Early warning signs
Early warning signs of Alzheimer’s can include getting lost or confused, repeating words, behavior changes, difficulty following instructions, forgetfulness, and trouble focusing.
Other signs are a reluctance to make a decision, having no concept of time or season, interruptions in sleep patterns, avoiding social interactions, getting lost, and personality and mood changes.
“If your loved one is repeating themselves over and over again, and every time they ask you that question, they ask it the exact same way” that is a sign of Alzheimer’s, Jordan said. “To them, it’s the first time they’re asking. This is a disease of the brain that affects your short-term memory first.”
Sometimes, symptoms can mimic Alzheimer’s, such as a vitamin deficiency, hypothyroidism, Lyme disease, or infection.
Typically, Alzheimer’s disease is a slow progressing disease, so if there is the exhibit of a quick change in behavior, such as falling or sudden confusion, this can be a sign that the patient may have another condition. That’s why Jordan said people should go to the doctor when they’re noticing any changes at all. “Some of these [other] conditions can be curable and treatable,” she said.
Resources to go to after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s include a neurologist and a geriatrician. In addition, local physicians can give newly-diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients referrals and offer dementia testing, according to Jordan.
Local places that offer support for those affected by dementia include the Mather Senior Center in Darien, Community Answers in Greenwich, SilverSource in Stamford, River House Adult Day Center in Cos Cob, Elderhouse in Norwalk, Waveny Care Center in New Canaan, the YMCA in Wilton, and Bridges by EPOCH in Norwalk and Trumbull.
News and information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can be attained through social media, health talks, and hospital newsletters.
Support groups provide a great resource for Alzheimer’s information, according to Jordan. “There are 90 support groups throughout the state. Most towns have them,” she said. “There is nothing better than the mutual support you can get from others who are in the same boat.”
The Alzheimer’s Association is always looking for volunteers, according to Jordan. “Fairfield County is thirsty for education and knowledge,” she said. “There is something for everyone — support group leaders, advocacy, and public policy.”
Fast facts on Alzheimer’s disease
- Sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
- Currently, no treatment or cure.
- Every 65 seconds, someone is diagnosed.
- 5.8 million throughout the U.S. are diagnosed. Those numbers are expected to triple by the year 2050.
- Caregivers provide an estimated 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care each year, estimated at a value of $232 billion.
- For Connecticut Advocacy Day on March 13, the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter will be meeting in Hartford from 9 a.m. to noon, to support the families living with Alzheimer’s in Connecticut. It’s an opportunity to meet lawmakers and share stories. To register, visit alz.org/ct.
To contact the 24-7 Connecticut Alzheimer’s Association helpline, call 1-800-272-3900.