Alzheimer's Disease is, sadly, the sixth-leading cause of death
in the U.S. and affects over 5 million people throughout the nation. It's a condition that presents all kinds of challenges and heartaches for both patients and their families. But one annual conference hopes to provide ongoing support those struggling from the condition and its complications.
Held at Northern Michigan University, the 18th annual Caregivers Conference
hopes to educate familiar caregivers about effective ways to deal with the disease and better prepare them for the obstacles they may face.
Because Alzheimer's is unfortunately a very common condition, there's a lot of misinformation that continues to spread about the disease. Lindsay Brieschke, Director of Public Policy for the Alzheimer's Association Michigan Chapters, stated that "one of the biggest hurdles with Alzheimer's and dementia is realizing that Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging."
A key piece of information to note is that, while many people assume that dementia and Alzheimer's are interchangeable, they actually describe two separate things. Dementia is the term used for a variety of memory conditions; Alzheimer's is just one of them. There are actually more than 100 different types of dementia
that have been medically recognized, though Alzheimer's Disease remains the most common.
In fact, many people have what's called mixed dementia, which is a combination of two or more dementia diseases. It's difficult for researchers to know how many adults have been diagnosed with one dementia disease but may actually suffer from a combination. However, autopsies have shown that this occurrence may be more common than previously thought.
The difficulty in identification stems from the fact that dementia diseases present differently from person to person. Assessing whether forgetfulness is a new development or simply part of someone's personality can be important for pinpointing early signs of dementia. But because many early signs may be attributed to other factors or may be dismissed as something that happens as we age, these symptoms may be missed or ignored.
Organizers of the conference aim to reduce these misconceptions through education. Keynote speaker and Director of the Michigan Alzheimer's Disease Center, Dr. Hank Paulson, emphasized the importance of attendees learning from the experts. He added that the annual conference is also helpful for professionals, who have the chance to "meet other people who are trying to solve problems, just as you are in your own work."
Although the development of Alzheimer's is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, experts say that a healthy diet, regular exercise, and productive sleep can help reduce your risk or slow down dementia progression. Though environment and genetics could very well play a part, a lot more research has to be done in this field before the answers become clear.
For now, the conference's organizers hope that this yearly event can provide some sort of comfort and knowledge for those with these conditions and their loving families.