June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge and show support for the millions of patients, families and caregivers worldwide struggling with Alzheimer’s or other forms of memory impairment. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and, right here in Pennsylvania, diagnosis rates have tripled in the past few years.
Age is one of the biggest risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s Disease. The unprecedented growth rate of Pennsylvania’s aging population — compounded by a shortage of doctors and care teams who specialize in the physical, mental and behavioral health challenges specific to seniors — compelled The Wright Center to create a geriatrics fellowship program, under the able leadership of Dr. Ed Dzielak, and a new geriatric service line that will include an Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program in partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles.
Set to launch July 1st, The Wright Center’s new Alzheimer’s and Dementia Clinic is one of only eight certified by UCLA across the country. Our team of Wright Center geriatric specialists will partner with and provide support to regional primary care doctors by offering comprehensive dementia evaluation and testing and supporting personalized care plans to help patients and their families navigate the complex systems to best address their medical, behavioral and socioeconomic needs.
Anyone attempting to research Alzheimer’s Disease online is likely to find multiple myths and misunderstandings that only create more confusion about an already complex disease.
Isn’t memory loss just a natural part of getting older?
Minor memory lapses related to “benign forgetfulness” are common. Alzheimer’s disease goes beyond forgetting where you put your sunglasses down or having trouble remembering an acquaintance’s name. It is progressive and disabling, causing a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that impair activities of daily living.
How do I know if I’m seeing Alzheimer’s Disease in a loved one versus simple “senior moments?”
There are several signs to look for that may indicate Alzheimer’s Disease, including memory loss that disrupts routines of daily life; needing assistance with regular activities that used to be handled alone; confusion when it comes to tracking dates, occasions and time; and trouble working with numbers, managing finances and processing critical-thinking problems. Is your loved one constantly relying on reminders, such as notes left around the house, or asking family members to help them keep track of simple things? Are they losing words from their vocabulary or consistently losing track of where common household items are stored? These are things to keep an eye on and bring to the attention of your loved one’s primary care provider.
Does Alzheimer’s Disease affect only seniors?
Although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, Alzheimer’s Disease is not just an “old person’s disease.” Early-onset Alzheimer’s can affect people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are about 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 who have it.
Can certain minerals or ingredients cause Alzheimer’s?
Most scientific data suggests that the answer is probably not. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted more than 100 laboratory and clinical studies that did not find evidence of a link between Alzheimer’s Disease and things like aluminum or Aspartame.
If you have concerns or questions about Alzheimer’s, look to your primary care physician to provide answers. You can also call The Wright Center for Community Health’s Mid Valley Practice at 570-230-0019 for more information about our emerging geriatric specialty services. Our Jermyn location is open 365 days a year and serves all ages, regardless of insurance or ability to pay.
Linda Thomas-Hemak, M.D., a primary care physician triple board-certified in pediatrics, internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as CEO and serves as President of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. She lives with her family and practices primary care in Jermyn. Send your medical questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.