June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness and pledge support for the 47 million people around the world who are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The Alzheimer’s Association has a number of activities and ways you can help, including wearing purple on June 21, which is the summer solstice. The Association is also encouraging people to sign up for fundraising activities on “The Longest Day.”
“Because we serve seniors in Central Virginia, we’re in tune with Alzheimer’s and dementia all year long,” said Mira Pallotta, Executive Director of Brandermill Woods. “Our memory care services at The Holly Inn is a warm and secure place for seniors already suffering from memory loss, but we also recognize the importance of healthy lifestyle and awareness for everyone.”
Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
People often lump Alzheimer’s and dementia into the same category, but there is an important distinction between them.
Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather is a general term referring to mental decline that affects your daily life. Memory loss is the most common symptom, but memory loss alone doesn’t mean a person has dementia. Instead, dementia is characterized when multiple core mental functions are impaired, including memory, communication, reasoning and visual perception.
Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia (the most common form) and is a progressive brain disorder. While scientists are not sure what exactly causes Alzheimer’s, two prime suspects are plaques and protein tangles, which seem to build up in the brain and attack nerve cells. The plaques and tangles spread through the brain, thereby causing the progressive symptoms of dementia.
Three Stages of Alzheimer’s
While Alzheimer’s ordinarily affects seniors 65+, the disease can affect anyone, and usually occurs in three stages:
- In early-stage Alzheimer’s, before symptoms can be detected, the plaques and tangles begin to form in the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and planning. This phase can begin up to 20 years before diagnosis.
- Symptoms begin to appear in the mild-to-moderate stage when individuals begin having problems with memory. They may also have trouble handling money and expressing themselves, and their personality may change. This phase may last two to ten years.
- In advanced-stage Alzheimer’s, the brain shrinks and the person loses the ability to communicate or care for themselves. This phase may last one to five years.
The Impact of Wellness and Lifestyle
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia, but because of the disorder is progressive, treatments may help prolong brain health. Additionally, scientists believe the risk of Alzheimer’s may be reduced through wellness and lifestyle choices such as:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet full of vegetables and fiber and low in fat and cholesterol
- Getting plenty of physical exercise, even if it’s as simple as a long daily walk
- Maintaining strong social connections with friends and family
- Participating in intellectually stimulating activities
These wellness and lifestyle factors are important for everyone, but they’re especially important as we age. This month, whether you participate in a fundraising activity or just wear purple, we encourage everyone to assess their lifestyle and take active steps to maintain good health.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia and activities in your area, visit the Greater Richmond chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Also, take a look at the resources, services and activities we offer at The Holly Inn at Brandermill Woods.