RICHMOND — Seniors attending Wednesday’s presentation at the Senior Center on Alzheimer’s disease learned how to recognize the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s and what to do if they think they or someone they know might be suffering from it.
Senior Center Chairman Dennis McGinity said he had organized the talk after attending a similar presentation in Westerly about a month ago.
“I was so impressed with it I thought that the elder residents in Chariho, it would be beneficial to them,” he said. “It’s a good thing. It’s a great program.”
Annie Murphy, program manager at the Rhode Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, began by reciting some sobering statistics, including the fact that in Rhode Island alone, the group is aware of 23,000 people who are living with the disease. Unfortunately, Murphy said, physicians are reluctant to diagnose Alzheimer’s, probably because so little can be done to treat it.
“Still to this day, physicians are really concerned about actually giving that diagnosis and putting it into someone’s medical chart,” she said. “We understand that for this particular disease, we don’t have a viable treatment, a way to slow the progression of the disease and even to reverse it.”
Alzheimer's is a condition in which abnormal clusters of protein called plaques build up between brain cells. Twisted strands called tangles, consisting of another protein that is found in dead and dying nerve cells, combine with the plaques, spreading throughout the cortex, killing brain cells and dramatically reducing the size of the brain.
“If we’re not able to find a viable treatment to slow down the progression or reverse it, this could become the number one cause of death in this country by 2050,” Murphy said. “In Rhode Island it’s No. 5, and nationwide, Alzheimer’s disease is the No. 6 leading cause of death.”
One woman asked Murphy to explain the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s. “Dementia is actually a group of symptoms and is not the disease itself," Murphy said. "Alzheimer’s is the actual disease. It is the pathology that is causing the outward symptoms that we see.”
Murphy went through the 10 signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, which include memory loss that disrupts daily life, difficulty in completing familiar tasks, confusion about time and place, new problems with speaking or writing, and changes in mood and personality.
The key, Murphy said, is how much these cognitive changes are affecting someone’s daily life and the lives of loved ones.
“Cognitive changes that really interrupt our daily life,” she said. “Other people notice those symptoms, other people may be noticing those symptoms and when we start doing cognitive testing, it’s shown that there’s something going on.”
Although certain genetic markers are believed to predispose people to Alzheimer’s, other factors such as obesity, smoking, inactivity and high blood pressure have also been linked to the disease. One man said he was living a healthier lifestyle following heart surgery, but he wanted to know whether he had made those changes too late.
“I’m making changes, but my thought process is, have I waited too late to make these changes in my life?” he asked.
Murphy said it was never too late to make healthy changes.
“Whether we are 90 years old or 11, we need to make sure that we are a life that is as healthy and as active as it can be,” she said. “This is going to help you as you age more. The ultimate goal is, we want to be able to help you, even if you’re on a path to developing Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia that’s degenerative.”
Murphy reminded her audience several times during her presentation to talk with their doctors about any symptoms they might be having.“Write what you’re seeing down,” she said. “Talk to the people that are in your trusted circle. Make an appointment with your doctor.”
After attending the session, Barbara Wilcox of Hope Valley said, “It was very interesting and I learned a lot of new things that I didn’t realize affect different parts of our life.”
More information on Alzheimer’s disease, including the 10 signs and symptoms, is available at: https://www.alz.org/ri