The Iowa Department of Public Health is recognizing June as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. More than 66,000 Iowans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease - a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. This is also a time to recognize caregivers for the support they give; approximately 73,000 Iowans provide unpaid care to individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and scientists do not yet fully understand its cause. Age is the strongest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s, but the disease is not a normal part of aging. Researchers also believe genetics and a family history may also play a role. A healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of diagnosis, with multiple long-term studies indicating adequate physical activity, a nutritious diet, limited alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco as ways to decrease the risk of developing the disease.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease that Family and Friends May Notice:
- Memory loss that affects daily life
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them
- Increased frequency of accidents or injuries
- Getting lost in a familiar setting
- Changes in mood, personality, or behavior
There are a handful of approved medications for Alzheimer’s, but these only treat the symptoms of the disease, and their effectiveness can vary from person to person. Non-pharmacological approaches and lifestyle changes remain the best option for decreasing their risk. For example being socially engaged and keeping your brain active by challenging it daily. Since Alzheimer’s gets worse over time, seeking diagnosis early after noticing symptoms is incredibly important. Earlier diagnosis can mean more treatment options and more time to plan. It can mean getting involved in clinical trials or changes to managing other chronic health conditions. Those who are concerned about changes they’ve seen in themselves in a loved one should talk to their primary care doctor.
To learn more about resources available for individuals, families and caregivers, visit hhs.iowa.gov/chronic-disease-prevention.