Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and more than five million Americans are currently living with it. Yet it is the only leading cause of death that has no cure, says Nicole McGurin, family services director at the Alzheimer’s Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter. She calls Alzheimer’s a “major public health crisis,” one that will be around long after our current public health crisis resolves.
McGurin discussed Alzheimer’s and dementia in a webinar earlier this year. The webinar, entitled “Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia: Diagnosis, Treatment and Risk Reduction,” was part of Nonotuck’s annual AFC (Adult Family Care) Summit.
Each year, Nonotuck hosts the AFC Summit to offer AFC provider organizations educational sessions and opportunities to network with other professionals in the field.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s summit took place virtually, with all five sessions now available on Nonotuck’s website as webinars.
In her webinar, McGurin discusses the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s, risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementia and how to reduce those risk factors, warning signs of Alzheimer’s, steps to take when warning signs are seen, and treatment options.
Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to a collection of symptoms related to cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia.
Though common, it’s not a normal part of aging, McGurin says. “While age is one of the most common risk factors,” she says, “it’s also a risk factor for many different kinds of diseases.” That includes cancer, yet cancer is not considered an inevitable part of aging, she notes.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s include age, genetics, diet, sleep, physical activity and more. Some risk factors can be modified but others cannot, McGurin says. Researchers have determined that being physically active, being heart-healthy, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking and engaging in rigorous cognitive activities can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
McGurin says getting an accurate diagnosis can be helpful if you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms that could be caused by Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Different types of dementia have different timelines — some progress very quickly, while others move more slowly — and some have unusual symptoms. Knowing what to expect can help families prepare.
In the webinar, McGurin presents several case studies for discussion, helping guide professionals in assisting people in different circumstances, such as how they would suggest family approach their concerns and ideas for dealing with the current situation.
Though there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are some drugs available that can mitigate its symptoms for a period of time. Clinical trials are investigating other options for the future, and McGurin says there is cause for excitement.
“We’re definitely learning more about Alzheimer’s,” she says. “There’s really a lot of reasons to be positive about the treatments that are in the pipeline right now.”
The Alzheimer’s Association has a wide variety of information and resources available on its website and through its local chapters. Find out more here.
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