Millions of individuals and their families are living with challenges due to Alzheimer's disease, and this number will only multiply until effective prevention strategies or treatments are found. The fight to end Alzheimer's is critically important, and everyone can play a role. However, what that role entails could vary greatly, depending on your situation. In honor of World Alzheimer's Day on September 21, I'd like to share some actions that you can take, whether you are a caregiver, a friend of a caregiver, or an older adult who has a family history of the disease.
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Early-stage Alzheimer's Caregiver: Get Educated and Engaged
Caregivers whose loved one is entering the early stages of Alzheimer's need to learn as much as they can about the disease, and stay active with family and friends. It is common for people (caregivers and those with dementia) in this new and overwhelming situation to become isolated and pull away from friends. But maintaining your close relationships is very important during this time. Also, take steps to help your person live successfully with the disease; for example, you may need to organize a carpool with friends to help take your loved one to church on Sundays, or out for coffee during the week.
Moderate-stage Alzheimer's Caregiver: Find Support
As your loved one progresses into moderate-stage Alzheimer's, he or she is going to become more dependent on you for the basic activities of daily living. This is the time to accept help from your family and friends--because you just can't do it alone. I also recommend exploring different forms of respite care--whether that be adult day care, in-home care services, or an art or music program that your loved one can get involved in. If you haven't joined a support group yet, research your local Alzheimer's Association chapter or look into programs within your local healthcare system.
A Past Caregiver: Mentor a New Caregiver
If you were a caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer's, you likely learned a lifetime's worth of important information about how to best handle the disease. You could volunteer your time to talk with a new caregiver, sharing your experiences and the lessons you learned along the way. Being able to talk to someone who's been through the same thing will probably be more helpful than anything a caregiver could ever read about the disease.
Older Adult with a Family History of the Disease: Get Involved in Research
If you are between the ages of 55 and 75, living in the U.S., and have not been diagnosed with cognitive impairment, you are eligible to sign up for GeneMatch, a research study program of the Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative (API). GeneMatch is designed to connect people to Alzheimer's research studies, based in part on their genetic information. GeneMatch utilizes a cheek swab to collect confidential genetic information that may help match healthy volunteers to studies. Currently, GeneMatch is helping recruit for the API Generation Study, which will test whether two investigational drugs can prevent or delay Alzheimer's in older adults who are at high genetic risk for the disease. You can learn more here.
None of the above: You can still get involved!
There are hundreds of other research studies out there for people of all ages. The Alzheimer's Prevention Registry (www.endalznow.org) is open to anyone 18 and older, and shares research opportunities, caregiving advice, and general Alzheimer's news. You can find clinical trials in your area, or share opportunities with friends and family who may be eligible. It's a great way to stay active in the Alzheimer's community!
As you can see, there are a wide range of ways that you can contribute to stopping the Alzheimer's epidemic, whether it's through caregiving, helping a friend, or joining a research study. We can all do our part to help a loved one, and contribute to the fight to end Alzheimer's for good.