Raising Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness

Check out Dr. Ron Schonwetter's blog post where he describes the importance of raising Alzheimer’s disease and dementia awareness.

Alzheimer's disease
One of the biggest challenges doctors, patients and families face can be found in Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and memory loss.

Today we continue “DRops of Wisdom,” our physician blog, with Dr. Ron Schonwetter, chief medical officer for Chapters Health System. He describes the importance of raising Alzheimer’s disease and dementia awareness during the month of June.

June is Alzheimer’s Disease Month

From social to financial to health, there are many challenges that we face today as we continue to age. One of the biggest challenges doctors, patients and families face can be found in Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and memory loss.

It is estimated there are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and about 200,000 diagnosed with the early onset form of the disease. Two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s disease are women in the United States. In looking at ethnicity, Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to have the disease as compared to Caucasians of the same age, and older African Americans are almost twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer's disease awarenessWhat predisposes a person to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? Scientists have identified age, family history and genetics as risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. While these factors cannot change, studies indicate other risk factors can be altered.

Risk factors that can be altered are:

  • Cardiovascular health: High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol are known conditions that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The same can be said with regard to these conditions and developing Alzheimer’s. A study recently found a 45 percent increase risk of cognitive impairment or dementia in patients with coronary heart disease.
  • Physical exercise: A key strategy for combatting most diseases is regular physical exercise, and for Alzheimer’s, there is no exception. When a person exercises, there is increased brain activity, which can be beneficial in keeping brain cells healthy. Recently, Gregory Panza, an exercise physiologist in the Department of Cardiology at Hartford Hospital, and his team studied the benefits of exercise on mental function in older adults. The results of the study showed that individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease who did not exercise had a decline in cognition, but those seniors who did any type of exercise had better mental function.Alzheimer's disease
  • Diet: Nutrition and eating a heart-healthy diet will also protect the brain. A diet devoted to eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, while at the same time limiting sugar and saturated fats, is the first step. In the past, the benefits of two diets had been studied: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean. Rush University researchers took the data one step further and combined both diets to create the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet. The results of their study showed the MIND diet lowered Alzheimer’s disease risk by as much as 53 percent for those who followed the diet rigorously.
  • Mental and intellectual activity: While once a diagnosis is made it is impossible to halt the disease, patients with Alzheimer’s are encouraged to stay as active as possible mentally. Reading, learning a new language and teasing the brain with puzzles are encouraged. It is believed constant brain stimulation keeps the unaffected part of the brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Published in Neurology, the Johnson group showed that mental activity had a significant impact on estimated intelligence quotient but unfortunately did not affect the course of the disease.
  • Social interaction: When older adults have a strong social network of friends and family members, they inevitably hold conversations and think of ways to respond and interact, which helps with reasoning and comprehension. Researchers also found a strong connection between decreased cognitive function and loneliness/isolation. Therefore, it is important to encourage older adults to stay socially active by participating in community or volunteer activities.

When Hospice is Right for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients

One of the hardest decisions a healthcare practitioner will make is knowing when it’s time to refer a patient to hospice. Studies indicate that most patients who could benefit from hospice care simply aren’t referred early enough.

Any patient with Alzheimer’s disease or advanced dementia may be suitable for hospice care if the prognosis is six months or less should the disease run its natural course.

Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are eligible and can be referred to hospice when indicators, such as the following, are present:

  • Ability to speak is limited to six or fewer intelligible words per day
  • Unintentional weight loss of more than 10 percent over prior six months
  • Functional decline with the inability to walk, dress and bathe without assistance
  • Urinary and bowel incontinence

The staff at all Chapters Health hospice affiliates — Chapters Health Hospice, Good Shepherd Hospice, Hospice of Okeechobee, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice, are dementia trained, so all concerned parties can be assured that we understand the disease and the specific challenges that come with caring for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients. Symptom management is of utmost importance, and we can assist with the following to help a patient’s quality of life:

  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Depression

In addition, we assess each patient’s safety on every visit to minimize fall risk. And whenever possible, we also schedule our care visits in the day to calm patients and support caregivers with the challenges often associated with Sundowning Syndrome or late-day confusion.

Alzheimer's disease awarenessStats on Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Loss

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the following are some startling statistics when it comes to memory loss diseases:

  • Currently, 5.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Every 65 seconds in the United States, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Between 2000 and 2015, deaths from heart disease decreased by 11 percent while deaths from Alzheimer’s increased by 123 percent.
  • Among the top 10 causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s is the only one that cannot be prevented or cured.
  • By 2050, the number of people in the United States with Alzheimer’s could be as high as 14 million, with the disease being diagnosed at a rate of every 33 seconds.

Chapters Health System is committed to serving the needs of its patients, families, caregivers, health providers, partners and communities.

Discover more details and information about care for patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or Contact Us.

filed under: Patients

Dr. Ronald Schonwetter
Posted on June 7, 2018 By Dr. Ronald Schonwetter Dr. Ronald Schonwetter, Chief Medical Officer for Chapters Health System, manages hospice and palliative care services for the not-for-profit organization.