Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases are extremely devastating public health concerns. One reason they’re so concerning is that the only thing placing all of us at risk for developing dementia, loss of memory, loss of judgment and other cognitive problems is having a brain. All jokes aside, that makes 100 percent of the population at risk of developing a brain disease or having a family member with one.
“Alzheimer’s disease is the only leading cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. But just because there’s no cure for dementia and no way to guarantee a healthy mind all through your life and golden years, it doesn’t mean there’s no hope. And in order to have hope, someone has to shed attention on neurodegenerative illnesses. That’s why the Alzheimer’s Association designated June Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. #ENDALZ
Starting on June 1st, people around the world are encouraged to wear purple and share Alzheimer’s and brain-health stories with friends and colleagues. The Association has an additional goal: by raising funds for brain health research, perhaps one day there will be a cure. But right now, for the roughly 50 million people around the world living with a catastrophic brain health disorder, there’s just one unfortunate outcome.
Why you need Decoding Health Insurance
If you or a loved one develops any type of cognitive disorder, the patient will need to see a doctor — plus one or more specialists. That’s why it’s so important to learn everything you can about health insurance: how to get it and what kind of benefits to look for. Check out Decoding Health Insurance and the Alternatives: Options, Issues, and Tips for Saving Money to find out everything you need to know about health insurance plans, and what they do and don’t cover. Attempting to navigate America’s health care and insurance system for a loved one who has a neurodegenerative disease is almost guaranteed to drive you crazy!
Brain Health Disorders
When we talk about brain health and the neurodegenerative diseases that are so common in old age, here are some of the issues experts are referring to:
- Dementia – A non-specific group of symptoms that interferes with daily functioning. Dementia can cause loss of memory and loss of judgment, plus many other cognitive problems.
- Aphasia – This is a language disorder that impairs the ability to speak and communicate. Some people with aphasia have problems understanding written language as well.
- Agnosia – This rare disorder affects the ability to recognize objects or people — even those who you know.
- Apraxia – A type of brain disease or brain damage, apraxia is a condition that causes difficulty conducting ordinary movements and skills that you’re perfectly familiar with. It also affects speech, making it difficult to move the tongue, lips and jaw.
You may have noticed a pretty significant disorder missing from the list above. Since this article is about brain awareness month and so many people around the world are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, we thought we’d dedicate a solo section to the devastating disorder.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. In fact, it’s the most common cause of dementia. It affects all types of cognition and is responsible for loss of memory and even loss of judgment.
Alzheimer’s patients can lose the ability to make sound decisions about their behavior and even their personal hygiene. The progressive disease is so damaging that patients often need some level of professional caregiving. The good news is that comprehensive health insurance policies do offer treatment for this terrible neurodegenerative disease. But without guidance from a book like Decoding Health Insurance, it’s difficult to know how to navigate the different tiers and plans within those tiers. So this book can really take a load off your shoulders when all you want to concentrate on is a loved one who seems to be slipping away.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that worsens over time. Most patients’ symptoms progress so badly, that it interferes with daily tasks, like getting dressed in the morning and communicating their needs. Other patients stop recognizing friends and loved ones. The average lifespan for Alzheimer’s patients is 4 to 8 years.
How Dementia Works — A Brief Overview
There are billions of nerve cells in the brain. In healthy individuals, neurons are arranged in groups and transmit signals to one another. These groupings are involved in tasks like thinking, some are responsible for learning and others play a role in memory. Still, other cell networks assist with hearing, smelling and seeing.
Of course, to operate smoothly, cell clusters in the brain require energy and must also dispose of waste. Researchers believe that Alzheimer’s causes a breakdown in neurons’ ability to do their job. Neurons die off as dementia progresses. The changes it causes in the brain are irreversible.
To this day, scientists still don’t know what actually causes Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the easiest way for researchers to study structures in the brain affected by the disease is through autopsy studies. Patients, loved ones, and brain disease researchers would love to get to a point where people don’t have to die before we can better understand this terrible disease. And ultimately, the goal is to find a cure. That’s why the Alzheimer’s Association created Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month
Wear Purple in June for Alzheimer’s & Brain Health Month
To show your support for Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association encourages everyone to wear the color purple. To make it easier, they’re offering a 20% discount on products on their shop page. You can purchase items like neckties, hoodies, yard signs and much more.
The organization also brainstormed dozens of fundraising-event ideas, from bike races to cookouts and bake sales. Interested in organizing a fishing fundraiser? The Alzheimer’s Association suggests reserving space at a local lake or renting a boat and charging a participation fee/donation that goes toward funding research and outreach efforts. You can find dozens of more ideas like that on their Fundraising Ideas page. The Association also provides templates so you can promote your fundraiser on social media, via email, and by hanging flyers around town. (See the Go Purple in June campaign toolkit for more details.) #ENDALZ
Loss of Memory vs. Dementia
For anyone “of a certain age,” any type of memory blip can cause concern. The truth is, some memory loss is a completely normal part of aging. Oftentimes, experiencing a “senior moment” might just mean forgetting that you made plans with a friend, or you walk into a room but can’t recall why.
The following is a list of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Unlike misplacing your keys or forgetting a lunch date, if any of the following happen to you or a loved one, then it’s time to get a mental wellness exam.
- Personality changes and significant mood swings
- Lose your way in familiar environments
- Forget to pay bills and start handling finances poorly
- Repeatedly ask the same question
- Completing ordinary tasks takes longer
- Worsening or loss of judgment
- You start losing belongings and misplacing ordinary items like keys and phone
Here’s one of the biggest problems with dementia, and specifically Alzheimer’s: patients are usually the last ones to know they have the disease. So it’s up to family and friends to seek help if they notice a loved one displaying any of the behaviors mentioned above.
Brain Health Quiz
We found a thorough mental wellness questionnaire, published by AARP, the organization dedicated to advocating for Americans over the age of 50. This quiz is particularly good because the authors provide explanations for why some behaviors point to ordinary behaviors associated with aging and those that are indicative of a brain health disorder.
Here are a few examples from the AARP quiz, Is It Normal Memory Loss or Early Dementia?:
The remainder of the short quiz asks what it means if you don’t recognize the person in the mirror. Maybe you miss a turn while driving to a grandchild’s weekly soccer game. Whether it’s a sign of early dementia or normal memory loss if you start finding ordinary items in strange places.
AARP writes that, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, “This kind of behavior might sound humorous, but it’s more troubling than occasionally losing track of your wallet, phone or keys. Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them is a sign of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
And the following question asks if it’s normal or a sign of early dementia if you find it harder to use your smartphone or whether apps you use a lot suddenly don’t seem to work. Again, we guessed that’s normal aging. And, again, we were wrong. “Increasing difficulty in navigating a digital device or an appliance could signal an erosion of executive function,” according to AARP.
Check Out Decoding Health Insurance
Now that you’ve had a brain-health refresher it’s time to brush up on the U.S. health care system. For assistance, check out Decoding Health Insurance and the Alternatives: Options, Issues, and Tips for Saving Money. For information about coverage, check out the chapter on the Affordable Care Act of 2010, starting on page 7.
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