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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

National Alzheimer's Day (World Alzheimer's Month)

Before the economic disaster, I used to make yearly donations to the Alzheimer's Association for research. I started doing it in honor of my paternal grandmother, who had a long, sad, and expensive bout with the disease before she passed away. I'm in no position to fund research at any level now, so for now my one contribution to defeating this illness is raising awareness of it.

I envy anyone who's never had to consider what it must be like to lose control of your moods, abilities, language, personality, and most engrained memories on an inexorable decline. Once it's diagnosed, it never gets better. With an aging population, Alzheimer's disease may overwhelm the medical system in addition to affected people's loved ones, so it's important even for people so far untouched by it to be aware of the threat it poses and to try to do something about it.

Medical professionals now use the term "cognitive impairment" to describe the progression of the disease as a reminder that Alzheimer's is not strictly memory loss. My father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's when he was only 57 years old after years of increasingly strange behavior that nearly drove my mother to her wits' end. Historically, it has been a lot more difficult to get a proper diagnosis when the patient is younger than 65, but the Alzheimer's Association's awareness-raising among the medical profession is helping to make diagnosis easier and more accurate.

World Alzheimer's Month comes at an especially emotional time for my family. At age 64, my father is still active with friends and with woodworking and automotive projects, but his driver's license has been revoked after a series of accidents in which no one was injured. Although I think it might be useful to provide some details about how this happened and its complex emotional toll, I'll respect my family's privacy and just say that we are saddened in every imaginable way.

It hasn't escaped my notice that early-onset Alzheimer's has made a hereditary path through my family straight to me and my brother. There is now a genetic test that can accurately predict the likelihood of developing the disease. My lack of medical insurance is keeping me from taking that step for now, but I haven't decided whether I want to know at this point. In the meantime, it can't hurt to load up on the antioxidants!

To learn more about the symptoms of Alzheimer's versus normal aging, studies being conducted in your area, preventative measures, and caregiver support, visit the Alzheimer's Association's wonderful website: www.alz.org.

World Alzheimer's Month Site