Alzheimer's disease expected to triple by 2050

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According to the World Health Organization, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are expected to triple worldwide by 2050.

Dementia is a broad term that defines loss of cognitive function, ability to perform day-to-day tasks and loss of ability to communicate. Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia, associated with changes in the brain.

According to research done by UCLA, 5.5 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s. The studies estimate that 15 million Americans will have some sort of cognitive impairment by 2060.

Medical Director of Palliative Hospice & Home Plus at Rapid City Regional Hospital, Andrea Baier, says the rise in the disease may be because people’s life expectancies are also increasing.

“Americans in general are living longer,” Baier says. “People who may have [died] 50 years ago at age 65, are now living to be 90 or 95, and developing signs of dementia that they might not of in earlier decades.”

Baier says early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia are when familiar activities become difficult. People with the disease may have trouble performing financial tasks, like balancing a checkbook.

“Early signs would be - inability to perform tasks that they could usually do on a day-to-day basis - playing cards, cooking meals,” Baier says. “They may get lost driving a route that they’ve driven for 25 years. Forgetting the names of friends and family members that they would usually remember.”

She also says not all dementia symptoms point to Alzheimer’s. As soon as someone thinks they may be experiencing cognitive impairment, they should contact their family provider as soon as possible.

“Not all dementia is Alzheimer’s, and sometimes it can be reversible,” she says. “Things like low thyroid or blood sugar. Certain other metabolic diseases can cause dementia-like symptoms. And once you treat the underlying cause, you can actually fix the dementia symptoms." 

Although medication can help slow progression of Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment, there’s yet to be a cure. But healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise, time with friends and family and a nutrient-dense diet can be beneficial.

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