SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) – The Alzheimer’s Association says that 6.5 million Americans age 65 or older suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. They add that the number is expected to increase to nearly 13 million by 2050.
Dr. Stuart Anfang, chief of adult psychology at Baystate Health, spoke with Western Mass News about more about the disease, its risk factors, and what caregivers can do to help someone with the disease.
What are the risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease?
Anfang: “So the main risk factor for Alzheimer’s is basically old age because we’ve done so well in terms of prolonging peoples life with our treatments for our heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Essentially, people are living longer and so the longer you live into your 70s and yours 80s and your 90s, the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia. Other risk factors include things like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and smoking and some of the things that can also cause wear and stress on the brain.”
Is there something you can do to try to prevent getting the disease?
Anfang: “It’s a great question. It’s kind of the million dollar question. Obviously, there’s not very much you can do about not getting older. Again, there is evidence that shows that if you do things to control what are called vascular risk factors things like no smoking, eating better, exercising, controlling your diabetes, controlling your hypertension and cholesterol, those are all good things that will promote brain health, although they dont necessarily prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”
What are some things caregivers can do to support someone who has disease and also receive support?
Anfang: “That’s an excellent question. You referenced more than six million people have Alzeheimer’s this year in the United States and the number that goes along with that is probably nearly double that nearly 12 million people are taking care of people with Alzheimer’s disease, often providing lots of unpaid and unsupported hours. We worry about caregiver burnout because it is a challenging condition for family memebers as well as for patients and you really need to think about it as a marathon, not a sprint.
There are excellent support systems, for example, the Alzheimer’s Association, as well as through local senior service centers, like Springfield Senior Services or Highland Valley Elder Services and they can provide some guidance for caregivers around getting additional supports, whether it’s home heath aides in the home, respit care, day programs, other supports that would be helpful to avoid caregiver burnout. The goal of course is to keep the patient as safe and as comfortable as possible and you also want to make sure the caregiver doesn’t get burnt out or depressed or stressed themselves because if the caregiver is really unable to care for themselves, they are not going to be able to care affectively for their loved one with Alzeheimer’s.”
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