How would you feel if you had no answer to the question, ‘do you remember how you got here?’
Like a rising tide, Alzheimer’s progresses slowly and without warning. Sufferers of the disease can soon feel stranded, alone and isolated from friends and family who are unsure of how to help or interact with them. Alzheimer’s knows no social or economic boundaries, and anyone can be affected. For the 44 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s worldwide, such a question and the simplest of daily tasks can become insurmountable. Forgetting important dates, finding it impossible to follow a recipe or keep track of monthly bills, and unknowingly repeating oneself in conversation can all be signs that Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, may be taking hold.
A survey carried out worldwide earlier this year by GE Healthcare concluded that modern attitudes to dementia reflect a desire to know if dementia will strike at some point in later life. This attitude seems to stem from wanting to be in control of one’s future and treatment options. The survey also found that knowledge of the symptoms of dementia was low, highlighting the need for more awareness among the general public.
It is too often the case that, when most in need of support, sufferers of dementia can become most isolated from their loved ones. Social stigma and lack of knowledge surrounding dementia can lead to strain in relationships, delayed diagnosis and treatment, and a dehumanization of the patient. There are still myths present in the general public’s perception of the disease: that dementia is a normal part of ageing (it is not), and failing to realize that sufferers of dementia can go on to lead fulfilling lives for many years after diagnosis, if diagnosed and treated properly. The World Health Organization released a landmark report called ‘Dementia: A Public Health Priority’, presenting the most comprehensive picture of dementia around the world to date.
If the overall cost of dementia were compared with the world’s national economies, it would exceed 1% of Global GDP. If Dementia were a country, it would be the world’s 18th richest, behind Turkey and ahead of Indonesia.1
World Alzheimer’s month is observed in September every year, with World Alzheimer’s day falling on the 21st to mark the opening of Alzheimer’s Disease International’s annual conference in 1994. Several events will take place to help stimulate conversation, educate, enlighten and inform. Because the more dementia is talked about, the more it is understood and the better sufferers of these diseases can be cared for.
The brain is so incredibly complex that our understanding of it is far behind that of nearly every other organ. But since the inaugural Alzheimer’s Day in 1994, the medical community has made steady progress in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s and related diseases. Dementia can now be diagnosed earlier than ever, and research into treatment is one of the most active areas in science today.
Alzheimer’s month is as critical a time as any to keep raising awareness of dementia and the efforts being made to conquer it. But it is just as important to remember that sufferers could be our mother, our brother or our best friend. In the more advanced stages of dementia, it may seem like they are no longer the same person. The following video of a woman and her mother, with late-stage Alzheimer’s, is a testament to the fact that they are still there, and very much with us.