COLUMBIA — It is common knowledge that Alzheimer’s disease robs people of their ability to remember, but other truths about the disease remain unknown. For instance, many people are unaware that Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease, its symptoms extend further than memory loss and that early diagnosis matters.
“People tend to talk about Alzheimer’s disease the way we used to talk about cancer, keeping it hidden,” said Cindy Alewine, President/CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, South Carolina Chapter. “In many cases, common myths discourage individuals from discussing their concerns with family members or healthcare providers. We want South Carolinians to know that early detection of Alzheimer’s has enormous benefits for diagnosed individuals and their families.”
More than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, but only about half have been diagnosed. Additionally, less than half (45 percent) of seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or their caregivers are aware of the diagnosis. Diagnosis is often delayed due to low public awareness of the early signs of Alzheimer’s and general misperceptions about Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Greater understanding is urgently needed given the dramatic impact of the disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
• Alzheimer’s disease is fatal – there are no survivors. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including 84,000 in South Carolina
• Alzheimer’s disease is not normal aging. Alzheimer’s is a fatal and progressive disease that attacks the brain, killing nerve cells and tissue, affecting an individual’s ability to remember, think and plan. Brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s may begin 20 or more years before symptoms appear.
• Early detection matters. Early diagnosis provides individuals and their caregivers with access to available treatments, support services, and the opportunity to enroll in clinical trials. The care team can better manage co-occurring conditions and reduce the risk for falls and injuries.
• Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented, but adopting healthy habits can reduce your risk of cognitive decline and contribute to brain health. Staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet benefits your body and your brain. There is also some evidence people may benefit from staying socially engaged with friends, family and the community.
• Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the country. Alzheimer’s disease remains one of the most critical public health issues in America, costing taxpayers $18.3 million each hour. The total national cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are estimated at $236 billion a year, of which $160 billion is the cost to Medicare and Medicaid alone.
Comprehensive online resources and information are available through the Association’s website at alz.org and the 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900. The Association provides assistance to more than 310,000 callers each year, offering translation services in more than 200 languages.