June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. The Alzheimer’s Association – Western Carolina Chapter is encouraging people to wear purple to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s and honor those affected by the disease, and to have conversations about Alzheimer’s with a family member or friend who is exhibiting symptoms. “When I was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, I wasn’t able to have the conversation with my mom because she was incapacitated [due to Alzheimer’s] so I turned to the Alzheimer’s Association – Western Carolina Chapter,” said Brian Van Buren who was diagnosed with the disease in 2015 at age 64. “After joining the Early-Stage Program, I got to be with peers who also had an early diagnosis. Not only did it provide a forum for conversation, but a wonderful opportunity to share our experiences of living and dealing with Alzheimer’s. “One of the ways I have been able to move forward in my life is by putting together a dream team of medical providers, a life coach and a friend from church who also support me. It is important to include your family, friends and others in the process because an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is not just about you; it involves everyone in your life,” said Van Buren. To help people understand early symptoms of Alzheimer’s or behaviors that merit discussion, the Alzheimer’s Association offers 10 Warning Signs. Should these signs appear, it is important to talk about them with person experiencing symptoms and encourage them to speak with a medical professional. The value of an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis There are many medical, financial, emotional and social benefits to receiving an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis – both for those living with the disease and their families. These include: Accurate diagnosis. Can help determine if someone’s cognitive changes are truly due to Alzheimer’s or some other, perhaps even treatable, condition. Medical benefits. Allows individuals to explore medications for memory loss, sleep changes and behavior changes resulting from the disease, as well as to adopt lifestyle changes that may help preserve their existing cognitive function for as long as possible, such as controlling one’s blood pressure, smoking cessation and exercise. Participation in clinical trials. Enables individuals to enroll in clinical trials that advance research and may provide medical benefits. Planning for the future. Allows individuals more time to plan for the future while they are cognitively able to make legal, financial and end-of-life decisions. Emotional and social benefits. Provides individuals with the best opportunity to spend time doing meaningful activities and interacting with the most important people in their lives. It can also open doors to many educational and support programs. 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s 1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own. Typical age-related change: Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later. 2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before. Typical age-related change: Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook. 3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. Typical age-related change: Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show. 4. Confusion with time or place. People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. Typical age-related change: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later. 5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving. Typical age-related change: Vision changes related to cataracts. 6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”). Typical age-related change: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word. 7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time. Typical age-related change: Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them. 8. Decreased or poor judgement. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean. Typical age-related change: Making a bad decision once in a while. 9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced. Typical age-related change: Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations. 10. Changes in mood and personality. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. Typical age-related change: Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted. The Longest Day Leading up to and culminating on Thursday, June 21, people around the world, including several teams across 49 central and Western North Carolina counties (served by the Alzheimer’s Association – Western Carolina Chapter) will participate in The Longest Day, a day dedicated to all those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Whether it’s choosing a favorite activity, hosting an event or joining a team, participants will ignite a global conversation about Alzheimer’s disease, the brain and other dementias as part of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in June. To start or join a team, host an event, register individually, or to learn more about The Longest Day visit alz.org/thelongestday or facebook.com/fightalz. The Alzheimer’s Association – Western Carolina Chapter helps families and friends navigate challenges and considerations at each stage of the disease, through face-to-face conversations with experts, a free 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) and comprehensive support and resources on alz.org.