For National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month this November, the Alzheimer’s Association is stressing the importance of family members being proactive in initiating conversations if they notice cognitive changes in a loved one. Currently, more than six million Americans live with Alzheimer’s, but fewer than half have received an official diagnosis.
To motivate families to discuss such concerns sooner than later, the Alzheimer’s Association has teamed up with the Ad Council to launch a new national communications campaign, "Hopeful Together." An early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia can provide a person with a better chance of benefiting from treatment and better prepare them for symptoms yet to come and build support that may be needed.
Bringing up the topic, however, is not easy. Fewer than half of Americans polled in a new Alzheimer’s Association–Ad Council survey (44 percent) say they would talk to a loved one right away about seeing a doctor if they noticed signs of cognitive decline. Instead, they say they are more likely to check in with other relatives (56 percent) and do research online (50 percent) when observing troubling signs.
Overcoming the Reluctance to Address a Difficult Topic
“Many families are hesitant to discuss cognitive concerns even when they know something is wrong,” said Michael Carson, chief marketing officer, Alzheimer’s Association. “But having these critical conversations and seeing a doctor together can help facilitate early detection and diagnosis, offering individuals and families important benefits. Some forms of cognitive decline are treatable, so it’s important to get a medical evaluation.”
The poll revealed, however, that most Americans actually wish their loved ones would take action. More than 4 in 5 surveyed (83 percent) say they want family members to share concerns if signs appear.
Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support at the Alzheimer's Association, says that recognizing these signs can be a challenge in itself.
“Many of the general public will see that becoming forgetful and having memory lapses is a normal part of aging,” said Moreno. “While there are changes that happen as we age that are normal, there are certainly warning signs that something more serious is happening.”
The Alzheimer’s Association provides a list of early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, including difficulty completing familiar tasks, challenges in planning or solving problems, or often repeating things.
The Hopeful Together campaign also offers tools and resources to help families recognize early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, along with tips for facilitating conversations about cognition, benefits of early detection and diagnosis, a discussion guide for use with doctors and health providers, and other disease-related information. The Alzheimer’s Association has a worksheet — "10 Steps to Approach Memory Concerns" — that may help as well.
Moreno adds that in some instances an early visit with a doctor may reveal that confusion and disorientation may be due to a reaction to a medication or possibly the result of a urinary tract infection.
“It may not be a cognitive issue at all,” she said. “So it’s important to get a thorough workup from a doctor so you can get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.”
Giving Support to Caregivers This Month as Well
Because November is also National Family Caregivers Month, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging all Americans to support Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers.
The organization shares these points illustrating the scope for caregiving:
- More than 11 million people in the United States are currently providing unpaid care to a person living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- Nearly half of all caregivers (48 percent) who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
- In 2020, these caregivers provided 15.3 hours of unpaid care valued at nearly $257 billion.
- The need for these caregivers is only expected to grow as the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is projected to reach nearly 13 million by 2050.
Moreno notes that as Alzheimer’s progresses in a patient, the caregiver becomes solely responsible for almost all aspects of the patient’s life, such as bathing, dressing, and feeding.
“We want caregivers to recognize that we recognize what they do,” said Moreno. “We also want to make sure that they’re cared for and they know there are resources and services available to them.”