Alzheimer's is a currently incurable, debilitating and emotionally devastating disease of the brain, and 5.3 million Americans are living with it today. If no new medical breakthrough is made, it is projected that almost 14 million people will have it by 2050 and countless millions of family and friends will feel its overwhelming impact.
While no cure or preventive treatment currently exists, there are five things you can do on World Alzheimer's Day (September 21) to advance prevention research, help those affected by it and even reduce your personal risk of developing the disease.
1. Join the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry: The Registry consists of more than 130,000 people who are passionate about combatting the disease, are committed to helping end Alzheimer's before we lose another generation, and prove that there is power in numbers. They have stepped forward to protect their own health and that of loved ones and friends. Registry members, who may or may not have symptoms, receive notices and information about upcoming prevention trials and how they may be able to participate based on their interest. Signing up is quick and easy; just visit www.endALZnow.org.
2. Find opportunities to participate in prevention studies: Researchers are working tirelessly to find the next medical breakthrough that could make Alzheimer's a disease of the past. But to find the volunteers who meet specific study criteria, they need thousands of potential participants who do not have any symptoms of the disease. Without this, research trials on potentially life-saving treatments will be significantly delayed. Sites, such as www.endALZnow.org/studyopportunities, are good resources to discover prevention studies.
3. Volunteer your time: Millions of people either have Alzheimer's or are impacted by a personal connection through a spouse, family member or friend. Each day, these individuals benefit from the generosity, commitment and compassion of those willing to give their time and talent to help them. Use World Alzheimer's Day as an opportunity to find Alzheimer's-related volunteer options in your area. Or if you know someone who cares for an individual with Alzheimer's, step in for that caregiver for a few hours and spend time with the person with Alzheimer's, perhaps playing cards, taking a walk, or looking through family photo albums.
4. Thank a caregiver: Alzheimer's takes a significant toll not only on the person with the disease but also the people caring for them. It's estimated that Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers provided almost 18 billion hours of informal - or unpaid - care in 2014. This is often an exhausting and thankless job. If you know one of these caregivers, send them a card or do something else that shows them appreciation for what they do. These small gestures can make a big difference in someone's life.
5. Live a "brain healthy" lifestyle: While there are currently no definitive answers to preventing Alzheimer's disease, there are ways that may reduce your risk through healthy eating and staying active. Eating a heart healthy diet reduces your risk for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension, which are risk factors for Alzheimer's. Exercise when you can as aerobic exercise helps your brain and heart stay healthy. Flexing your mental muscle through social activities and mentally challenging activities will also help you stay sharp.
These are only five of the many possible actions you can take on World Alzheimer's Day to take part in the fight against Alzheimer's and help those affected by the disease. What else do you plan on doing?