2022 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures

The Alzheimer’s Association has released its 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report.

This year, the Alzheimer’s Association is taking a closer look at Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and encouraging greater awareness and understanding of this condition and its relation to Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are some of the top takeaways:

  • More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s
  • 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia
  • In 2020, COVID-19 contributed to a 17% increase in Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths
  • More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias and in 2021, these caregivers provided more than 16 billion hours of care valued at nearly $272 billion.
  • Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans are familiar with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can be an early stage of Alzheimer’s
  • About one-third of people with MCI due to Alzheimer’s disease develop dementia within 5 years of diagnosis

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Reflections on death being more about the journey than the destination

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I recently had the privilege of writing a blog post for The Conversation Project. My father died 10 years ago and in May, I will be marking seven years since my mother’s death. I’ve had a lot of time to think about end of life issues in the years since their passing and I’ve shared my perspectives here on The Memories Project blog and in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver.

In my post for The Conversation Project, A Good Death Is More about the Journey than the Destination, I discuss my family’s reluctance to talk about death and end of life issues, and how that impacted their end of life journeys, albeit in very different ways. My father’s death impacted how I cared for my mother, when just several months later, she was diagnosed with cancer.

Neither of my parents experienced the kind of death that I would want for myself, and that is why it has become such an important advocacy issue to me. Please talk to your loved ones, discuss your end-of-life wishes and document it all so that you can have some peace of mind when that phase of life is reached. What I wish for everyone is that you can find the time to simply be with your loved ones who are nearing the end of life, and not overly preoccupied with medical care duties. Just like at the beginning of life, it’s important we have those bonding moments at the end of life as well.

Visit The Conversation Project for tips and guides on how to start these important conversations with your own family.

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Studying blood vessels in the brain to develop targeted treatment for Alzheimer’s

There is more interesting research going on in the world of Alzheimer’s. Scientists are examining whether the brain’s infrastructure plays a role in a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A damaged vascular system in the brain could develop cognitive performance issues, akin to an aging power grid that struggles to deliver power to a city, according to the research discussed in this Stanford Medicine Scope blog post.

In looking at a genetic atlas of the brain, researchers found that the “majority of the top Alzheimer’s risk genes are significantly expressed in the [brain’s] vasculature.” If you want to do a deep dive into the research, take a look at the study published in Nature.

The new technology used to create a genetic atlas and the accompanying discoveries give Alzheimer’s researchers new avenues to explore. No cause and effect has been established yet between brain vascular damage and Alzheimer’s risk, but there will now be additional research conducted to examine this area.

What could this mean for potential treatment of Alzheimer’s disease down the road? According to the Tony Wyss-Coray, who runs the lab where the research was conducted, treatments that could target the brain’s vascular system may be more easily accessible as the blood-brain barrier presents a challenge when it comes to getting drugs into the brain.

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Being a pet owner may have cognitive benefits

Donna Cecaci/Unsplash

I’ve written before on this blog about having a keen interest in studies that involve dementia, Alzheimer’s and overall cognitive health, while also maintaining a healthy skepticism. This week a preliminary study about how having a pet could benefit cognitive health made the rounds on social media. Those of us who are pet owners know how much love and joy they can bring to our lives. But it’s also important to understand and be able to manage the challenging moments as they age and develop health issues of their own.

The study found that those who had owned pets for five or more years were able to delay cognitive decline by 1.2 points vs. those in the study who did not have pets over a six-year period. The study analyzed cognitive data of more than 1,300 adults age 50 or over. While researchers were only able to establish an association, not a cause and effect with this study, the findings support prior research in this area.

Pets offer loyal companionship and keep us on a routine. Dog ownership encourages daily walks, and regular exercise has been demonstrated to have cognitive benefits. By just being their unique and adorable selves, pets can offer us moments of joy that help relieve stress and lift our spirits. As a society, we should do everything we can to make sure elders and those with health issues have the support they need to keep their beloved pets with them, whether its at home or in a residential facility.

Pets can also present a host of challenges, from behavioral to health issues. I personally have experienced this and dealt with an extended period of sleep deprivation. Researchers believe our quality of sleep, especially in middle age, has an impact upon our cognitive health and that poor sleep may increase our risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias later in life.

I cannot imagine my life without my pets, but I also accept the considerable responsibility that I have in maintaining their well-being. If you have elder loved ones with pets, check on them to make sure that there are no care issues that need to be addressed.

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Nutritional options important part of palliative care

I came across an interesting discussion recently about whether Ensure and other nutritional beverages marketed towards older people are really the best option.

The discussion that followed the geriatrician’s perspective included interesting pros and cons. It made me think about my parents’ experience with the beverages. My father had never been a fan of milkshakes or similar beverages, but he seemed to enjoy the Ensure drinks, so I would ship cases of them to the memory care center where he spent the last year of his life. My mother existed on Ensure for the last month or so of her life. I have regrets about that, wishing I had taken time to make her something that she would have enjoyed more.

This is why I’m such a strong believer in expanding inpatient hospice and providing more robust home hospice care. As the sole caregiver for my mother at the end of her life, things like whipping up something delicious for her to eat didn’t cross my mind because I was so busy focusing on the “important” things, like her pain medication, treating her bedsores, etc. While I managed to mainly keep her suffering to a minimum, there was no joy in her final weeks.

Those with dementia may struggle with solid food as they enter the final stages of the disease, so liquid forms of nutrition may become a necessity. Homemade smoothies, puddings and milkshakes may interest those who have grown tired of the commercial products. If you can, consult with a nutrition specialist or dietitian about tasty, safe options for your loved one. Bringing loved ones small moments of joy can also lift the spirits of family caregivers.

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Being less active during pandemic may have health consequences

The pandemic’s impact on health goes beyond those who contracted the coronavirus. Even those who managed to avoid the infection may have suffered consequences to their health, and in an area that many take for granted.

In December, I fell while walking my dog. I slipped going down a moderate slope in the park and landed straight on my rump. The fall knocked the wind out of me for a minute, but I was fortunate not to break or sprain anything. My back was very sore and remained so for about a week. I treated it using over-the-counter pain medication and homeopathic balms. My mobility was limited and I was forced to slow down and take it easy, but fortunately I fully recovered and don’t have any lingering issues.

I’m in my late 40s and in decent health. This was a minor fall, but it reminds me that as I get older, recovery from such incidents takes longer. We often take our mobility for granted, but the pandemic may have a lingering impact on our physical conditioning, making us more prone to falls. Studies suggest that some older adults have experienced a decrease in mobility during the pandemic, The New York Times reported.

Those who now work from home full-time may be moving less than when they went into the office, even if they drove to work. Pandemic restrictions may have shut parks, gyms, malls, and other outlets that older people used to exercise. Depression and anxiety can dampen the desire to exercise. Those who did contract COVID-19 may have battled lingering symptoms that made exercise difficult. And those who received benefits from physical and occupational therapy may have not been able to receive those services during the pandemic.

What geriatric health experts are concerned about is that decreased activity levels may result in worse physical functioning, which is key to older adults’ ability to live independently. A fall can lead to a lengthy recovery and trigger a fear of falling again, creating a vicious cycle with significant health consequences. The good news is that we can engage in simple activities that will help us reverse the impacts of our sedentary lifestyle and regain our mobility. Walking, yoga, and tai chi are all great ways to get moving and improve physical functioning.

Take inventory of your mobility and your elder loved ones and make an action plan if you desire to increase your mobility. Taking small steps now can make all the difference in keeping ourselves and our elder loved ones living independently.

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Nursing home evictions: Understanding your rights

As difficult as it can be to find a good nursing home and secure space for your loved one, the challenge doesn’t end there. Dementia caregivers in particular must be aware and be prepared to take action if the nursing home tries to evict your loved one.

So many people are not aware of the amount of nursing home evictions that take place each year in the US and the chaos and stress it causes families. I experienced a form of this when the skilled nursing facility where my father was placed after being discharged by the hospital said it could no longer care for him because they didn’t have staff that could provide dementia care. My father was not able to return home because he could no longer walk and my parents’ condo had stairs. My father was stranded and eventually was placed over an hour-and-a-half away from my parents’ home in the closest facility with a memory care wing.

In some cases, residents are evicted with very little notice and without a legal reason. ‘I Want to Go Home’ published in The Progressive Magazine offers firsthand accounts of how nursing home evictions can throw families into chaos. One way to protect your loved ones is to be aware of the possibility of eviction and an action plan to implement if it occurs.

I hope this is an issue your loved one never has to face but Justice in Aging offers good resources to learn more.

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9 Thoughts I Had While My Mom Was Living with Alzheimer’s

I can relate to these thoughts when it came to my dad’s journey with Alzheimer’s. If you are struggling as a dementia caregiver, know that these thoughts are common, so don’t judge yourself harshly.

Life, Love, and Alzheimer's

When you love someone who is living with Alzheimer’s disease, you often feel alone in your thoughts and feelings. You may wonder if anyone else thinks the same thing or feels the same way.

I hope to reassure you and normalize the thoughts caregivers may have while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. These are 9 thoughts I had while my mom was living with Alzheimer’s.

1. This is so unfair. Why is this happening to me?

2. She doesn’t deserve this. Why is this happening to her?

3. No one will ever understand what I am going through. I’m all alone.

4. I should be grateful that I still have my mom, but I just want my old mom back.

5. Am I a good daughter? I never feel like I’m doing enough.

6. Why doesn’t this person help out more? They know how hard this is. I…

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A thoughtful end to ‘After Life’

I’m a big fan of the Netflix show “After Life” created by and starring Ricky Gervais. While the subject matter and profuse profanity make it a show that not everyone will enjoy, I find its take on death and the grieving process refreshing and poignant.

The third and final season debuted this month and I was blown away by one scene in particular, which felt like my mother was speaking to me from beyond the grave.

As I’ve written about extensively on this blog and in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, my mother was reluctant to discuss any end-of-life issues, but she did give me a poem she had copied by hand and said she would like that read after she died. She didn’t want any service and she chose cremation over burial so it was left to me, her only child, how to honor her wishes.

The poem she chose is the poem that is read during a very moving scene in the final season of “After Life.” When the actress began reciting the poem, I almost jumped out of my seat and my breath caught in my throat. The poem is fairly well-known but still, what are the chances that the poem my mother chose was the one that was recited on a TV show?

I chose to honor my mother’s wishes by not only reciting the poem after her death, but having it imprinted on her urn. You can read the poem below.

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Learning more about Dad’s voyage to America

USS Theenim (AKA-63) in 1946. Source: Official U.S. Navy Photo via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve spent the decade since my father’s death piecing together a timeline of his life. While I know my father discussed the details of his freighter trip from the UK to America during my childhood, I sadly have forgotten most of those details. It bothered me I couldn’t learn more about the ship that he was on, but my initial searches turned up dead ends.

Then I took another look at his naturalization records on Ancestry.com, and discovered the name of the ship, SS American Inventor, was printed right on the form! I don’t know how I missed that initially. At first I turned up little information with the ship’s name, but then discovered that the ship had changed names over the course of its service.

The ship was originally christened the USS Theenim and functioned as a cargo attack ship during WWII, according to NavSource. (Reports say the name was a misspelling of Theemin, a star in the constellation Eridanus.) It served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater during wartime and earned one battle star. After being decommissioned, it began its merchant service duties where it became the SS American Inventor. The ship’s name changed a few more times before it was sold for scrapping in 1970.

It was neat to see the images of the ship on NavSource. The very last image is of the ship in New York City in the mid-1950s. My father arrived in New York in 1957, so it was really neat to see an image of the city’s skyline during that era, to have a better understanding of the first glimpses of America my father saw on the ship. What an exciting moment for my father, who was just 25 years old and about to step foot in the country he would adopt as his second home.

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