By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
Growing old gracefully is easier said than done – the mirror can betray the fact that we may feel 10 years younger on the inside. But with the laugh lines come the wisdom and the ability to look back fondly on a life well-lived. But for the more than five million people living with Alzheimer’s disease and their families, the reality is far different.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia among older people – and I believe it. Every day it seems I hear about another person who is experiencing the impact of Alzheimer’s. It is a condition that gets worse over time, and it is fatal. Just last year my own mother-in-law died from the disease.
Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. To put it simply, Alzheimer’s disease isn’t about forgetting an acquaintance’s name; it’s forgetting your wife’s name.
Alzheimer’s disease is a particularly serious issue for the African American community. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle reports that Alzheimer’s occurs among blacks at a much higher rate than among whites — from 14 percent to 100 percent higher. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some of the possible reasons are that African American’s have higher rates of blood pressure and diabetes, all risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
The number of African-American suffering from this disease could increase, as the number of African Americans entering the age of Alzheimer risk (age 65 or older) is expected to more than double to 6.9 million by 2030. This should be of particular concern to African American women who have almost twice as high a death rate due to Alzheimer’s disease than African American men, according to a 2005 California Department of Health Services report.
It’s important to recognize the difference between normal age-related memory changes and possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Some symptoms to look for include memory loss, difficulty performing tasks, problems with language, problems with abstract thinking or loss of initiative, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If you think you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s related dementia, it’s very important to seek medical advice. An early diagnosis is so important because it eliminates uncertainty and also gives you a better chance at benefiting from treatment. Diagnosing this disease can be difficult, but researchers at Stanford University have recently developed a single blood test that, according to preliminary studies, is able to identify patients with Alzheimer’s disease and may even predict the likelihood of developing the diseases.
There is life after diagnosis, in the early stages. Plan now for the future; your family can honor your wishes when it becomes too difficult to live independently. To help maintain your or a loved one’s independence, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends you take certain steps, like get help with daily tasks, use memory aids like labels and lists, stay active and take your medicines as prescribed. The learn more about caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease, workshops and finding local care providers, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at (800) 272-3900 or visit their Web site at www.alz.org.
Just over 10 years ago, there were no treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Today, however, because of advances in pharmaceutical research, there are medicines available to treat this cruel disease and help slow its symptoms. These medicines have improved the quality of life for many patients and the loved ones who care for them. And new medicines are being studied that offer the hope that one day Alzheimer’s disease will be a treatable or preventable condition not to be feared as it is now. In fact, a new survey by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) revealed 27 new medicines in development for Alzheimer’s disease.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may find your dreams for retirement taking a different path. But know that it is possible to live with Alzheimer’s in the early stages if you make simple adjustments, take your medicines as prescribed, follow safety precautions and have the support of others.