MAKING AN IMPACT

Alzheimer's Disease and Thanksgiving: What They Share

Released: Monday, November 21, 2016

The Thanksgiving holiday and Alzheimer's disease have something in common: they share the month of November. While this month brings a plethora of cuisine-filled celebrations with friends and family, it is also Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. The Thanksgiving holiday, which often brings in relatives from out of town, provides an opportunity for family members to spend quality time with loved ones and perhaps even be on the lookout for warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

An estimated 5 million people suffer from Alzheimer's today. The disease is a common form of dementia in the elderly. Dementia can affect memory, language, personality and eventually bodily functions such as the ability to walk or eat. Alzheimer's disease generally has a relatively slow onset with progressively worse symptoms as time goes on.

By the age of 65, one in nine people in Louisiana have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.  By the age of 85, our state's residents have a one in three chance of developing the disease.

Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month helps shed a light on the warning signs and symptoms of a disease that one of Pennington Biomedical Research Center's world-class facilities is focused on.  The Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention (IDRP) at Pennington Biomedical is working to prevent, make more manageable, and hopefully help cure Alzheimer's disease.

Pennington Biomedical's IDRP is home to one of the largest longitudinal brain aging studies in the United States, with nearly 1,600 participants enrolled from Louisiana. The study is making significant advances in helping to identify the triggers for Alzheimer's and dementia. The IDRP has five clinical studies underway now that are testing medications used to treat the disease.  One of these groundbreaking studies is examining the effectiveness of a new drug in the prevention of  Alzheimer's disease.

"The month of November is a significant time for many families who have relatives visiting from out of town.  During the holidays they spend considerable time with these family members and they may notice small changes in their parents' or grandparents' behavior," said Dr. Jeff Keller, director of Pennington Biomedical's IDRP.

While the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease requires trained medical professionals, Dr. Keller recommends that relatives keep an eye open for these warning signs in loved ones:

  • Dropping of work or social activities due to potential changes in cognitive abilities
  • Increased need for reminders, prompting or assistance to get through normal daily life
  • Inability to balance a checkbook, or getting lost in familiar surroundings
  • Struggling to find the right words or difficulty maintaining conversation
  • Inability to remember new things

Some of these signs can be considered part of the normal aging process, so it's essential to speak with your doctor about any symptoms you may notice.

While the possibility of Alzheimer's disease can be daunting, equipping yourself with accurate information and partnering with your doctor to develop a care plan to deal with possible changes can bring comfort to you and your loved ones. Keller recommends that people over the age of 60 get annual cognitive exams, which provide greater sensitivity in assessing changes in cognitive ability.

Pennington Biomedical offers free screenings for Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment. Pennington Biomedical also welcomes participants and family members in the clinical trials in progress aimed at finding better treatments for the disease. Visit www.idrp.pbrc.edu for more information about screenings. For more information about warning signs of Alzheimer's disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association at www.alz.org.