Many people sign a form to have body tissue or organs donated to others after their death. They often have this information recorded on their driver’s license to expedite procedures necessary in case of an accident. But far fewer choose to donate their whole body for scientific research — despite the fact that this type of donation is vital to help train new doctors, as well as to develop cures for diseases.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month. What better time to become educated about how to help people who have dementia live a better quality of life, help caregivers with support and resources, and teach others about the many types of dementia and other brain diseases? The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) was signed into law in 2011. Since that time, milestones have been identified to meet the plan’s biomedical research goals. But until recent years, the creation of similar milestones on patient care and caregiver support has lagged. In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Association Workgroup published recommendations – including patient-care milestones – to augment the U.S. Government’s “National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.”
When the average person thinks of dementia, generally Alzheimer’s disease comes to mind. At the same time, the person will likely think of memory loss. Both of these conclusions are understandable since Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and memory issues are often, though not always, the first symptom of that disease. Surprising then, to many people, is the fact that there may be earlier indicators of potential Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia than frequent memory lapses.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and the price tag for the disease in 2016 was over $236 billion. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that the disease is often featured on news broadcasts and as a topic of documentaries. PBS has been particularly attentive to the issues of AD. In 2012, PBS aired a moving documentary about Lee Gorewitz, who became the focus of You’re Looking at Me Like I Live Here and I Don’t. This documentary takes the viewer into Gorewitz’ life as a resident in a memory unit. In 2014, they aired The Genius of Marian, a story about Pam White and her family as they came to grips with her early onset Alzheimer’s disease (EOAD). Both programs sparked emotion in viewers with much praise and little controversy.
We are, for good reason, repeatedly reminded of the horrifying statistics related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people over the age of 65 is exploding and most dementia symptoms develop as a person ages. This is fact. In no way does this article intend to distract from the need to cure all types of dementia. However, there is one thing to celebrate. Alzheimer’s rates seem to be declining.
Typically, when we think of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease we think of memory problems. Words go missing, names escape one's grasp, daily tasks are forgotten. Now, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have shown that making mental maps of where we have been and where we are going is a process the brain may lose before memory problems begin to show. People with these early symptoms can no longer navigate even a familiar area as they once did.
Throughout the last several decades, caffeine has been alternately touted as hero or villain. For a time, caffeine was blamed for birth defects in children, and healthy eating, in general, meant eliminating food or beverages containing caffeine. Still, one of the most explosive new trends we’ve seen over the last dozen years has been designer coffee shops and kiosks, which show that people will not always follow where health gurus lead. Now the coffee drinkers may be vindicated.
We can’t keep these facts buried. Dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the leading variety, is a family disease in that it affects family dynamics, family income, and family health. It turns couples into care partners. It turns adult children into caregivers for their parents often during the time that they also are caregivers for their young children, which has created the term “sandwich generation.” In continuing efforts to find a genetic route to cure Alzheimer’s, the findings of one study could revolutionize the numbers given above. This study involves a treatment that delivers a modified virus to a gene in the brain that could wipe out the damage being done by developing Alzheimer’s before any symptoms occur.
Most of us know that positive thinking is supposed to enhance our lives but thinking positively, especially for some personalities, can be easier said than done. Life can be hard. If you have dementia or another terminal illness, or if you provide care for someone who does, thinking positively can seem impossible.Yet, many studies have shown that negative thinking can cause havoc with our health.An article from a University of Minnesota newsletter about how negative thinking affects the body states:
After decades of caregiving I’ve experienced some negative effects as noted in 5 Negative Effects of Long-term Caregiving. However, I've also experienced positive effects that continue to give me pleasure and enhance my life. I saved the positive aspects of caregiving for the second article because, having recently written about the ill effects on our health caused by negative thinking, it seemed more authentic to me as a writer. Also, as a person, when possible I like to concentrate on the positive. Below are a few of the many things that I feel I have gained, and still am gaining, from long-term caregiving.