More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. The best tool for living with the disease is for patients and loved ones to get the facts.
Alzheimer’s disease can be a difficult thing to confront, both for newly diagnosed patients and their loved ones.
“It’s not easy for us to talk to our loved ones about this,” said Cheryl Ricci-Francione, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater New Jersey. “It’s difficult because this may be your parent or your spouse, someone who is the closest to you, and suddenly their personality has changed. Perhaps they don’t remember your name or your children’s names. Alzheimer’s doesn’t discriminate.”
The Alzheimer’s Association is a non-profit organization with chapters all over the country. It provides resources through local chapters to patients and their loved ones, as well as advocating for funding and supporting research into new treatments and therapies.
“We’re connectors to all kinds of resources for people because we really want to build a safety net around these people to help them best navigate this journey,” Ricci-Francione said.
Knowing the signs
Detecting early signs of Alzheimer’s in a loved one can be difficult.
“There’s a lot of confusion around normal forgetfulness and what is potentially dementia,” Ricci-Francione said. “Things that we can look for as average Americans are unusual forgetfulness — it’s not that I can’t remember where I parked my car at the grocery store, it’s that mom hasn’t come home from the grocery store and couldn’t find her way home from the grocery store.”
Navigating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can also be emotional for loved ones. It’s normal to experience feelings of guilt or frustration when a loved one can’t remember, Ricci-Francione said. “What we suggest is that people try to process that and understand that their loved one can’t help these behaviors. They need to accept them where they are at this moment in order to help them.”
Eliminating the guesswork
One way to eliminate the guesswork is to include cognitive testing as part of a regular physical, which the Alzheimer’s Association advocates for.
“We should ask for cognitive testing for ourselves and for our loved ones,” Ricci-Francione said. “It should just be a normal part of the physical exam when we go to our primary physician.”
Once a patient has received their diagnosis, it’s best for them and their loved ones to make a solid care plan.
“We work with people who have received dementia or Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis daily, and those who really thrive are the ones who process it, do some research with their family, and put together a really great game plan,” Ricci-Francione said. “That plan should include clinicians who they can speak comfortably with and trust, financial and legal planning, and support services for the family.”
Finding a cure
The Alzheimer’s Association is the third largest funder of Alzheimer’s research in the world, and the largest nonprofit funder of research. It currently has hundreds of research projects, ranging from how lifestyle factors may affect symptoms to new drug treatments.
“We’re going to have to monitor the outcomes of those drugs and the people who are receiving them because they’re very new and there are a lot of diverse opinions about whether targeting beta-amyloid plaque in the brain is the answer,” Ricci-Francione said. “But we know that there have been decades of study on this and we view it as a breakthrough.”
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but getting educated about the disease early and making a solid care plan can make a huge difference in the life of an Alzheimer’s patient and their family. “Knowledge is power,” Ricci-Francione said, “and the more education someone has, the better they’re going to be able to navigate this with their loved ones.”