September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and to help raise awareness, we’re bringing you everything you need to know about Alzheimer’s disease, and what you can do to help. Globally, more than 50 million people suffer from dementia, with nearly 70% of those cases being Alzheimer’s.
To better understand how you can help support World Alzheimer’s Month, it’s important to understand the basics. That starts with understanding what Alzheimer’s disease is, and what causes it.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It is a progressive disease that typically begins with mild memory loss and can eventually result in the inability to carry on a conversation or respond to the environment. Alzheimer’s affects the parts of the brain that involve thought, memory, and language; those being the cerebrum, hippocampus, and left hemisphere, respectively.
In most people with Alzheimer’s disease, those being the late-onset type, symptoms first appear in their mid to late 60s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease typically occurs between a person’s 30s and 60s, although it is very rare.
The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the disease in 1906. During an examination of a woman who had died of an abnormal mental illness, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in her brain tissue. The woman’s symptoms included memory loss, language problems, and erratic behavior. When Dr. Alzheimer examined her brain tissue after her death, he found clumps in her brain, which are now called amyloid plaques.
These plaques in the brain are now considered to be the main characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Alzheimer also noted that another key feature of the disease was the loss of connection between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. This loss of connection is thought to be the cause of the abnormal behavior associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
While Dr. Alzheimer made his discovery back in 1906, scientists’ understanding of the disease is still progressing to this day.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists are still unsure as to what causes Alzheimer’s disease. While there is still much that is unknown, there is a consensus that there is not a single cause. Scientists believe that multiple factors play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, all of which can affect each person differently.
That said, there are several leading ideas as to what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Those include the following:
Age: Age is the best-known risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. However, neither Alzheimer’s nor other dementias are a normal part of aging. Most individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 and older. After 65, your risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. By age 85, that risk adds up to nearly 33%.
Family History: Another significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is family history. Scientists believe that genetics may play a role in developing the disease. However, having those genes does not you will develop the disease. Recent studies have shown that a healthy lifestyle that consists of adequate physical activity, a healthy diet, and limited substance use may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.
Head Injury: Numerous studies have found a connection between head injury and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. One study published in the British Medical Journal found that “young adults who experience a moderate or severe head injury have more than double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia later in life.”
Ethnicity: While still unclear, research shows that certain groups of people are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Latino individuals are about one-and-a-half times more likely than white individuals of the same age. Similarly, older black individuals are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as white individuals of the same age.
Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease, meaning it worsens over time. In its early stages, memory loss is the most commonly observed symptom, but it can oftentimes be mild. This can make spotting Alzheimer’s difficult, especially in cases of younger, early-onset cases.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 10 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease to be on the lookout for. Those signs are:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing simple or familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and inability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood or personality
Now that we’ve covered the basics about what Alzheimer’s disease is, let’s move on to what World Alzheimer’s Month is, and what you can do to help raise awareness.
What is World Alzheimer’s Month?
The first official World Alzheimer’s Month was in 2012. This came after a decision was made to extend World Alzheimer’s Day (September 21) to an entire month. This decision was made so that organizations and associations around the world could extend their awareness programs further than one day, which has helped to raise awareness and gain support for Alzheimer’s awareness.
World Alzheimer’s Month is an international campaign to raise awareness and highlight issues faced by people with dementia. It is an opportunity for people and organizations to demonstrate how we can overcome these issues and help people live well with dementia. It was started by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), which has funded the event since its inception.
During World Alzheimer’s Month, people come together from all around the world to raise awareness and challenge the stigma surrounding dementia. 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of World Alzheimer’s Month, which has been a vital source of campaigning and fundraising for Alzheimer’s research.
Every year, ADI has a key message or theme, which they use to help raise awareness, educate, or challenge people’s misconceptions about Alzheimer’s disease. This year, the theme is “Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer’s,” which is aimed at understanding the early warning signs of dementia. ADI’s focus this September is to “encourage people to seek out information, advice, and support, as well as contacting the Alzheimer’s or dementia association in their country.
Why Is World Alzheimer’s Month so Important?
World Alzheimer’s Month is important for many reasons. Globally, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are some of the largest challenges we face.
Nearly 50 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementias. In 2019, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias were the seventh highest global cause of death.
Having a globally coordinated awareness day or month, like World Alzheimer’s Month, can help send a message to governments and policymakers. This message can convey the importance of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and highlight the fact that they are serious health issues that need more research.
ADI states that “It is only through a truly global effort that we can raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia – so no matter how small or large your contribution, plan now to do something this World Alzheimer’s Month.”
Getting involved in World Alzheimer’s Month is an easy, effective way to show your support, and help raise awareness for the millions of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia.
What Can I Do During World Alzheimer’s Month?
There is no shortage of things you can do to get involved and help raise awareness for World Alzheimer’s Month. Organizations like ADI are asking everyone to help break the silence around Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
So, how can you get involved in World Alzheimer’s Month? Here are a few easy ways to help raise awareness that you can do from home.
ADI has also shared a list of events you can attend, including webinars for those who may be interested in attending virtually. They have also shared a media packet filled with information and graphics you can post on your social media accounts free of charge. The packet includes information on organizations you can donate to and help support during World Alzheimer’s Month.
Other organizations like Dementia Friends, an Alzheimer’s Society initiative, are a great way to get involved in World Alzheimer’s Month. Through their program, you can learn more about Alzheimer’s and other dementias. You can also learn what you can do to help those with Alzheimer’s in your community. Dementia Friends can also get involved with things like volunteering, campaigning, or wearing a badge to raise awareness.
You can always get in touch with local organizations, hospitals, and mental health facilities near you to see how you can get involved at a community level.
Whether you decide to share messages on social media or attend events in your community, getting involved in World Alzheimer’s Month is easy.
What Are You Doing for World Alzheimer’s Month?
Tell us your plans in the comments below.
What topics would you like to see us explore next?
Email us at [email protected] with your ideas!
Are you on Facebook?