Sept. 21 is designated as World Alzheimer's Day, where people around the world unite to raise awareness for Alzheimer's disease. Last year, Maria Shriver marked World Alzheimer's Day by highlighting that, "The nation's 78 million baby boomers are at the forefront of a coming Alzheimer's tsunami. They are entering their mid-60s and many will be getting Alzheimer's, which now affects 1 in every 8 people over 65."
That is a frightening statistic when you consider how many friends and family we know who are part of this age group. The sad reality is that we are all likely to be touched by Alzheimer's disease at some point in our lives.
Most of us are terrified at the idea that we or our loved ones might develop Alzheimer's and lose the cognitive functions that make us who we are. The result is that we try not to think about it. However, if we avoid it, we may not follow the recommended measures to reduce our risk of Alzheimer's, may miss the early warning signs and may not know how to help those around us who are dealing with it.
Here are five easy ways to honor World Alzheimer's Day this year:
Knowing how Alzheimer's disease impacts an individual and those around them is the first step to understanding how we can help. Too often, friends and family pull away after a loved one is diagnosed because they don't know what to say or do. Alzheimer's does not rob us of the ones we love, it just makes them harder to reach. With some basic knowledge, we can begin to understand what those with Alzheimer's are feeling and what we can do to ease their anxieties and connect with them. On World Alzheimer's Day, many organizations, including Sunrise Senior Living, will be hosting events to help educate members of the public about Alzheimer's care. These events will be a great introduction to caregiving best practices and communication techniques.
Arming yourself with an understanding of how to communicate with and care for someone with Alzheimer's can also empower you to help friends or relatives who have taken on the task of being a primary caregiver. Your ability to offer them a respite can make a huge impact on their ability to continue providing great care and managing the duties and responsibilities they have in other aspects of their lives. Offering someone as little as a few hours a week can be an amazing gift.
A report from the Corporation for National & Community Service indicates that volunteering has health benefits such as lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression later in life and greater functional ability. According to the report, older adults receive even greater health benefits from volunteering because it reinforces a purposeful role and increases their life satisfaction. Volunteers at Sunrise often tell us that they get back far more than they give when they spend time with residents in the memory care neighborhood. In addition, they have the opportunity to learn from professional caregivers and even receive basic training about the aging process and memory care.
Engage in conversation about Alzheimer's with those around you -- friends, family, co-workers or your local representative. Discussing thoughts and fears about the disease can be a great way to propel others to educate themselves. Become an Alzheimer's Association advocate and speak up to let Congress know that we need to address the needs of those with this disease. Support the Health Outcomes, Planning and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer's Act, which aims to improve the diagnostic process and provide more information and support to caregivers.
The Alzheimer's Association organizes Walk to End Alzheimer's™ events in local communities across the country. Many of these events are scheduled throughout the fall and offer a great way to raise awareness and money for research. While not everyone is financially able to do so, a direct contribution to the Alzheimer's Association is also an easy way to ensure that funds go directly to research, caregiver education and support, and raising awareness about this devastating disease. World Alzheimer's Day provides an opportunity for us to truly consider the effect Alzheimer's will likely have on our lives if a cure is not found. I encourage you to take action to honor those who have or had Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers.
Follow Rita Altman, R.N. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sunrisesrliving