November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month

The month of November is known has been known as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month since President Ronald Reagan made that designation in 1983. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there were fewer than two million people with the disease at that time. As our nation ages, that number has grown to more than five million.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that leads to memory, thinking and behavior problems. It is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases, and it is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. 

Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time and eventually advances until a person can no longer accomplish daily tasks. In the beginning, memory problems are mild, but as the disease progresses, patients become unaware of their environment and may no longer be able to carry on a conversation. Once their symptoms become noticeable, Alzheimer’s patients typically live an average of eight years, but can survive for as many as 20 depending on other health factors.

Although those aged 65 and older are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, there are thousands of others under the age of 65 who have early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s may be one of the cruelest diseases since those we love seem to “disappear” until the person they were no longer exists. 

When we learn that someone has Alzheimer’s, we are often devastated and wonder what the future holds for them and for us. We may also worry about how others will react to or treat the person. 

When a family member has Alzheimer’s, it affects everyone in the family, including the spouse, children and grandchildren. 

It’s important to talk to them about what is happening. Communication is essential to help understand how to interact with the person with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Being a caregiver is not easy, and we need to assist family and friends to assess what the person can still do and how much he or she still can understand.

Talking with the person is essential, and making direct eye contact and issuing gentle reminders both help to avoid correcting the person with Alzheimer’s. Instead, try to respond to their feelings and emotions and to plan specific activities that they have always enjoyed.

Being considerate is also key. Visit at times when the person with Alzheimer’s is at his or her best, speak to them in a soft voice and not as if they were a child, respect their personal space and never take it personally if they do not recognize you, are ever unkind, angry or merely confused. 

As a member of the New York State Aging Committee, I continue to work with my colleagues to ensure essential services are available to older adults and those with dementia to help enjoy a

high quality of life as they age. 

This includes programs such as: The Community Services for theElderly (CSE) Program, the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program (EISEP), Caregiver Resource Centers, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP), Wellness in Nutrition (WIN) Program, Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program (MCCAP), the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), Senior Respite programs, Social Adult Day programs, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NNORCs), the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program, Foster Grandparent programs, the Elder Abuse Education and Outreach program, and locally based Meals-on-Wheels programs. The Committee also has legislative and budgetary oversight of the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program, which is administered by the New York State Department of Health.

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