The month of November is known nationally as Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. President Ronald Reagan made this designation in 1983, recognizing the need for heightened awareness of this disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “There were less than two million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease at that time. That number has increased to nearly six million nationally.” According to the World Health Organization roughly 50 million people worldwide live with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

During National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association work to educate the public about the disease. They discuss some of the warning signs, symptoms, treatments, and coping. Organizations also work to increase understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and improve the quality of life for those living with or previously undiagnosed Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “In 2019 Alzheimer’s was the sixth leading cause of death. Approximately 2,390 people died of the disease. During the Covid-19 pandemic, 881 more deaths from Dementia occurred in 2020. Currently, over 120,000 people in Wisconsin are living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and more than 196,000 people care for loved ones with the disease.”

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the progressive neurodegenerative disease, which means it gets worse over time where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. 

The person affected eventually loses the ability to accomplish daily tasks. Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As the disease advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers and eventually experience difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases in the United States. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives 4 to 8 years after diagnosis but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.

November is also recognized as National Family Caregivers Month by the Caregiver’s Action Network (CAN). The month is dedicated to recognizing and honoring family caregivers across the country and offers an opportunity to raise awareness of caregiving issues, educate communities, and increase support for caregivers. According to CAN, more than 90 million Americans who care for loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, disease, or the frailties of old age.

Like so many, Alzheimer’s is personal to my family. My mom was diagnosed with dementia about five years ago. Watching the disease take over her mind and body was brutal. She was strong and held on for a long time but passed away in August. After watching my mom and family navigate this disease, it became so evident that most people know someone who has been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, whether it’s touched your own family, friends or loved ones. If you or someone you care about have questions know that you are not alone. 


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