Wellness Wednesday: Living with Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s.

Senior woman with prescription medicine

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing—and growing fast. Estimates vary, but experts suggest that more than 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is currently ranked as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the fifth-leading cause of death among those age 65 and older and a leading cause of disability and poor health. As the U.S. population ages, Alzheimer’s is becoming a more common cause of death. It is the only top 10 cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

Between 2000 and 2014, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease as recorded on death certificates increased 89 percent, while deaths from the number one cause of death (heart disease) decreased 14 percent.


Today, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. By mid-century, that is poised to become one every 33 seconds.


Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older adults.

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.

Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type.

Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living.

10warningsigns-2Alzheimer’s Symptoms

Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age. Most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign that brain cells are failing.

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information.

Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

People with memory loss or other possible signs of Alzheimer’s may find it hard to recognize they have a problem. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends. Anyone experiencing dementia-like symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.

People with memory and thinking concerns should talk to their doctor to find out whether their symptoms are due to Alzheimer’s or another cause, such as stroke, tumor, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disturbances, side effects of medication, an infection, or a non-Alzheimer’s dementia. Some of these conditions may be treatable and possibly reversible.

Prevalence

An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.

alz-risks

  • Of the estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2017, an estimated 5.3 million are age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
  • Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.

The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will grow each year as the size and proportion of the U.S. population age 65 and older continue to increase. By 2050, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease may reach 16 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.

In 2017, an estimated 700,000 people in the U.S. age 65 and older will die with Alzheimer’s.

As the population of the U.S. ages, Alzheimer’s is becoming a more common cause of death. Although deaths from other major causes have decreased significantly, official records indicate that deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased significantly. Between 2000 and 2013, deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease increased 71 percent.

Cost of Alzheimer’s

Let me help you out of the carIn 2016, 15.9 million family and friends provided 18.2 billion hours of unpaid assistance to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, a contribution to the nation valued at $230.1 billion.

  • Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women, and 34 percent are age 65 or older.
  • 41 percent of caregivers have a household income of $50,000 or less.
  • Approximately one quarter of dementia caregivers are “sandwich generation” caregivers—meaning that they care not only for an aging parent, but also for children under age 18.

Alzheimer’s takes a devastating toll on caregivers. Nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; about 40 percent suffer from depression.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the costliest chronic diseases to society.

  • Total payments in 2017 for all individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are estimated at $259 billion.
  • Average per-person Medicare spending for people age 65 or older with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is three times higher than for seniors without dementia.
  • Total annual payments for health care, long-term care and hospice care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are projected to increase from $259 billion in 2017 to more than $1.1 trillion in 2050.

Sources:
NIH National Institute on Aging
Alzheimer’s Association


More Information:

Alzheimer’s Association Fact Sheet

Alzheimer’s Association Pennsylvania Statistics

NIH Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s Fact Sheet

NIH Alzheimers Disease Basics

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Wellness Wednesday: Living Well as You Age

May is Older Americans Month. People in the U.S. are living longer than ever before. Many older adults live active and healthy lives. But there’s no getting around one thing: as we age, our bodies and minds change.

Logos2Though there are things you can do to stay healthy and active as you age, it is important to understand what to expect. Some changes may just be part of normal aging, while others may be a warning sign of a medical problem. It is important to know the difference, and to let your healthcare provider know if you have any concerns.

As you age, your heart rate becomes slightly slower, and your heart might become bigger. Your blood vessels and your arteries also become stiffer, causing your heart to work harder to pump blood through them. This can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.

Two senior women having fun painting in art classEngaging in social and productive activities you enjoy, like taking an art class or becoming a volunteer in your community or at your place of worship, may help to maintain your well-being.

Research tells us that older people with an active lifestyle:

  • Are less likely to develop certain diseases. Participating in hobbies and other social and leisure pursuits may lower risk for developing some health problems, including dementia.
  • Are more happy and less depressed. Studies suggest that older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel happier and more healthy.
  • Are better prepared to cope with loss. Studies suggest that volunteering can help with stress and depression from the death of a spouse. Among people who experienced a loss, those who took part in volunteer activities felt more positive about their own abilities.
  • May be able to improve their thinking abilities. Another line of research is exploring how participating in creative arts might help people age well. Other studies are providing new information about ways that creative activities like music or dance can help older adults.

For more information about healthy aging, visit these websites:

http://nihseniorhealth.gov/category/healthyaging.html
https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/
https://www.choosemyplate.gov/older-adults
https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/
https://www.cdc.gov/aging/index.html
https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seniorshealth.html

Sources: Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health and the Administration on Aging

Wellness Wednesday: Getting Fit for Life

SrHealthFitnessDayExercise and physical activity are good for you, no matter how old you are. In fact, staying active can help you:

  • Keep and improve your strength so you can stay independent
  • Have more energy to do the things you want to do
  • Improve your balance
  • Prevent or delay some diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis
  • Perk up your mood and reduce depression

You don’t need to buy special clothes or belong to a gym to become more active. Physical activity can and should be part of your everyday life. Find things you like to do. Go for brisk walks. Ride a bike. Dance. Work around the house. Garden. Climb stairs. Swim. Rake leaves. Try different kinds of activities that keep you moving. Look for new ways to build physical activity into your daily routine.

Four Ways to Be Active

To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try all four types of exercise— 1) endurance, 2) strength, 3) balance, and 4) flexibility.

  1. Try to build up to at least 30 minutes of activity that makes you breathe hard on most or all days of the week. Every day is best. That’s called an endurance activity because it builds your energy or “staying power.” You don’t have to be active for 30 minutes all at once. Ten minutes at a time is fine.

    How hard do you need to push yourself? If you can talk without any trouble at all, you are not working hard enough. If you can’t talk at all, it’s too hard.

  2. Keep using your muscles. Strength exercises build muscles. When you have strong muscles, you can get up from a chair by yourself, you can lift your grandchildren, and you can walk through the park.

    Keeping your muscles in shape helps prevent falls that cause problems like broken hips. You are less likely to fall when your leg and hip muscles are strong.

  3. Do things to help your balance. Try standing on one foot, then the other. If you can, don’t hold on to anything for support. Get up from a chair without using your hands or arms. Every now and then walk heel-to-toe. As you walk, put the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of your other foot. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch.
  4. Stretching can improve your flexibility. Moving more freely will make it easier for you to reach down to tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when you back the car out of your driveway. Stretch when your muscles are warmed up. Don’t stretch so far that it hurts.

Who Should Exercise?

SeniorsAlmost anyone, at any age, can do some type of physical activity. You can still exercise even if you have a health condition like heart disease or diabetes. In fact, physical activity may help. For most older adults, brisk walking, riding a bike, swimming, weight lifting, and gardening are safe, especially if you build up slowly. But, check with your doctor if you are over 50 and you aren’t used to energetic activity. Other reasons to check with your doctor before you exercise include:

  • Any new symptom you haven’t discussed with your doctor
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure or the feeling that your heart is skipping, racing, or fluttering
  • Blood clots
  • An infection or fever with muscle aches
  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
  • Joint swelling
  • A bleeding or detached retina, eye surgery, or laser treatment
  • A hernia
  • Recent hip or back surgery

Safety Tips

Here are some things you can do to make sure you are exercising safely:

  • Start slowly, especially if you haven’t been active for a long time. Little by little, build up your activities and how hard you work at them.
  • Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. That could cause changes in your blood pressure. It may seem strange at first, but you should breathe out as you lift something and breathe in as you relax.
  • Use safety equipment. For example, wear a helmet for bike riding or the right shoes for walking or jogging.
  • Unless your doctor has asked you to limit fluids, be sure to drink plenty of fluids when you are doing activities. Many older adults don’t feel thirsty even if their body needs fluids.
  • Always bend forward from the hips, not the waist. If you keep your back straight, you’re probably bending the right way. If your back “humps,” that’s probably wrong.
  • Warm up your muscles before you stretch. Try walking and light arm pumping first.

Exercise should not hurt or make you feel really tired. You might feel some soreness, a little discomfort, or a bit weary, but you should not feel pain. In fact, in many ways, being active will probably make you feel better.

For More Information on Exercise and Physical Activity

Local fitness centers or hospitals might be able to help you find a physical activity program that works for you. You also can check with nearby religious groups, senior and civic centers, parks, recreation associations, YMCAs, YWCAs, or even area shopping malls for exercise, wellness, or walking programs.

Looking for more information on how to exercise safely? Check out Go4Life® at www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Life. This exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging has exercises, success stories, and free video and print materials.

Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults.

View this article as a PDF: http://www.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/exercise-and-physical-activity.pdf


Reprinted from the National Institute of Aging: http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/exercise-and-physical-activity