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I ACT because I'm a daughter

I ACT on Alzheimer’s because I’m a daughter. There are lots of you daughters out there and sons and spouses and grandchildren and co-workers and long-time friends. I wasn’t shocked, but the reality of the hands going up was devastating. The question “Do you know a person or a family that has been affected by Alzheimer’s?” There are few people who haven’t felt the affects of this devastating illness. It’s interesting that many of the diseases that strike senior citizens are declining, but Alzheimer’s disease is increasing at an accelerated rate, according to the latest report from the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2030, 615,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s disease are projected compared with 454,000 cases in 2010. The disease is poised to strike one out of eight Baby Boomers. By age 85, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s is 50 percent — one out of every two people. Numbers mean nothing. All the hands that went up in the room, that means something.

This information is everywhere, but I have to print it again for you. Maybe this time it will be just the information you need.

Knowing some of Alzheimer’s warning signs can help you identify when changes taking place in your loved one go beyond typical age-related changes and may signify the effects of brain disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, occasionally misplacing items, temporarily getting confused, or forgetting someone’s name but remembering it later are all typical age-related changes.

Signs that point to Alzheimer’s may be similar but more severe, including:

• Memory loss that disrupts daily life.

• Changes in planning or solving problems.

• Difficulty completing familiar tasks.

• Confusion with time or place.

• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.

• New problems with words in speaking or writing.

• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

• Decreased or poor judgment.

• Withdrawal from work or social activities.

• Changes in mood and personality.

If you observe one or more of these 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s in your loved one, please talk to a medical professional. Early detection is a key to helping, planning and understanding.

We often hear first about Mini-Mental Exams. During the MMSE, a health professional asks a patient a series of questions designed to test a range of everyday mental skills. The maximum MMSE score is 30 points. A score of 20 to 24 suggests mild dementia, 13 to 20 suggests moderate dementia and less than 12 indicates severe dementia. On average, the MMSE score of a person with Alzheimer’s declines about two to four points each year.

Keep in mind that there is no one test that confirms Alzheimer’s disease. A diagnosis is only made after a comprehensive medical evaluation. While physicians can almost always determine if a person has dementia, it may be difficult to determine the exact cause. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s requires careful medical evaluation, including a thorough medical history, mental status testing, a physical and neurological exam, tests (such as blood tests and brain imaging) to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms.

Here’s some good news. Our local LAMAA Group (Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates) is working hard on two amazing projects.

ACT on Alzheimer’s. ACT on Alzheimer’s is a statewide, volunteer-driven collaboration preparing Minnesota for the personal, social and budgetary impacts of Alzheimer’s disease. Passionate and committed partners, supporters, ACT-communities and Minnesotans are taking part in the work and making a difference. There is more to do, community by community. Brainerd/Baxter is the sixth community in Minnesota to participate in ACT on Alzheimer’s initiative to create a Dementia-Friendly environment for people diagnosed with dementia, their families and caregivers. (Learn more about this initiative at www.ACTonALZ.org).

One of the six goals of ACT on Alzheimer’s is to Equip Communities. The LAMAA committee has invested in this goal and has organized an Action Team of community members. We want the Brainerd/Baxter area to be a Dementia-Friendly Community — a community that is informed, safe and respectful of individuals with dementia and their families, provides supportive options and fosters quality of life.

The next step is to assess current strengths and identify gaps within our community. You can help. We want to survey as many community members as we possibly can. Everyone counts – retail store owners and employees, restaurants, bankers, lawyers, teachers, government officials, health care workers, transportation companies, churches. Would you be willing to participate? The survey will be done by a member of the LAMAA Group, will take anywhere from 20 -50 minutes depending on your input, and remember there are no wrong answers. This can be done in person or on the phone. Please volunteer to take the survey and help us identify our communities’ strengths and gaps as we start our journey towards becoming a Dementia-Friendly Community.

Forum sponsored by LAMAA:

ACTing on Alzheimer’s: Live Well With Hope will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 20 at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes, with session for professionals from 3:15-5:15 p.m. Cost is $15. For registration contact Cassandra at 218-822-5573.

Speakers include:

• Jim Gambone, author of “Who Says Men Don’t Care”

• Lynda Converse, author of “His Name was Merle: Our Journey Through Alzheimer’s Disease.”

• Chris Anderson, Generations Law, Legal and Financial Planning

• Colleen Erb, “Clarity in Diagnosis: Types and Stages of Dementia.” Erb will also lead the professional session.

Information on ACT on Alzheimer’s and its progress in the Brainerd/Baxter communities will be presented.

Please attend this conference. Education is important. If you need any more information on either the surveys or the conference, you can contact me at 824-0077.

Remember, I ACT on Alzheimer’s because I’m a daughter. Why do you ACT?

DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.

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