Alzheimer’s disease: Research and Extension raises awareness of symptoms

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There are currently no cures for Alzheimer’s disease, but Kansas State’s Research and Extension network is suggesting a few ways to ensure people are actively working to take care of their brains.

According to Research and Extension, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and the number of cases is predicted to increase in the coming years.

It is estimated that nearly 14 million individuals will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by the year 2050, rising from the 5.5 million that are currently affected today.

Scientists and doctors throughout the world have studied the disease for decades, yet still fall short of all the information needed to eradicate the disease and stop its rising number of cases each year.

Side effects of Alzheimer’s can start out small, typically including mood and personality changes, poor judgment skills and repetition in speech and behavioral patterns.

As the disease develops, the brain will shrink and symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, anger, inability to carry out daily tasks and seizures will worsen until death.

Though there are currently no preventive measures for staving off the disease, researchers still urge individuals to take care of their bodies and mental health to ensure that brain functionality is at its highest. These can include things such as exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking and getting plenty of sleep.

In an email interview, Erin Yelland, assistant professor of family studies and human services, said many people do not understand the severity of the disease.

“Many people do not realize the devastating structural damage that Alzheimer’s does to the brain, such as taking away your brain’s ability to tell you to swallow and breathe, for example,” Yelland said. “Alzheimer’s is a fatal diagnosis, so until a treatment, cure or successful prevention technique is found, unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to slow the rates of death associated with the disease. A complete physical assessment, which may include an MRI or CT scan by a licensed medical professional, is recommended at the onset of symptoms.”

Families of individuals who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are also a concern. With the disease being incurable, family members often find themselves without a proper way of handling the disease.

“Knowledge is power,” Yelland said. “By learning about the disease process, preparations the individual and family can make and what the future will hold, you [the family] can be more prepared for what lies ahead.”

There are a plethora of Alzheimer’s support groups throughout the world. These groups provide a space for family members to talk openly about the issues involved in their loved one’s diagnosis. They also provide support groups for the Alzheimer’s patients themselves.

“Acknowledging that people with [Alzheimer’s] are people and they remain people first and foremost throughout their illness is so important,” said Laci Cornelison, research assistant and graduate student in human ecology. “It is important to have flexibility and ‘be with’ people rather than ‘dealing with’ them.”

Cornelison said K-State is putting efforts forward to help bring awareness to the disease.

“Each year, the Center on Aging hosts a Personhood and Dementia event here on campus that is all about improving quality of life for people living with the illness and providing caregivers with techniques and strategies to aid in this,” Cornelison said.

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