From the very beginning of The Alzheimer’s Project’s implementation, education and public awareness have been primary areas of focus. This effort is led by Alzheimer’s San Diego in partnership with Aging & Independence Services’ Outreach and Education team and other community and media partners. A broad public awareness and education effort is currently underway that is aimed to train County personnel and first responders who serve individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias (ADOD), encourage community-based organizations to raise public awareness through enhanced ADOD messaging, launch a multimedia campaign and create a public education course to assist individuals with life and financial planning.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., fifth leading cause of death in California, and the third leading cause of death in San Diego County. In 2014, an estimated 64,000 San Diegans age 55 years and older were living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias (ADOD), accounting for 8.3% of the 55 years and older population. In other words, one in twelve San Diegans age 55 years and older had ADOD that year. Assuming current trends continue, by 2030 nearly 94,000 residents 55 years and older will be living with ADOD, a 51% increase from 2013. One quarter of these residents were living in East Region and 17.5% were living in North Inland Region. In 2013, North Inland and North Central Regions had the largest proportions of residents age 55 years and older. However, East Region had the highest proportion of residents age 55 years and older living with ADOD followed by Central Region, with 12.4% and 10.3% respectively.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is a progressive, fatal brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to loss of memory and other cognitive skills, personality changes, and problems performing daily activities. It usually develops slowly and gradually gets worse as brain function declines and brain cells eventually die.
The majority of individuals who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have the late-onset form of the disease and do not exhibit symptoms until their mid-60s. Approximately 5% of all individuals with Alzheimer’s have the early-onset form of the disease and develop symptoms between the ages of 30 and 60. Most individuals with Down Syndrome develop Alzheimer’s with increased chance of developing the early-onset form of the disease versus the late-onset form.
Although researchers do not know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s, most experts believe that the abundance of plaques and tangles in the brain disable or block communication among nerve cells and disrupt processes the cells need to survive. It is this destruction and death of nerve cells that causes memory failure and the loss of cognitive skills, physical abilities and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Research has established that plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that build up in the spaces between nerve cells and that tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau, which builds up inside cells. Autopsies show that most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, but those with Alzheimer’s tend to develop far more. They also tend to develop them in predictable patterns, beginning in the areas important for memory before spreading to other regions. For individuals with Down Syndrome scientist are investigating how the extra copy of chromosome 21 may be increasing the production of harmful beta-amyloid.
Alzheimer’s San Diego has outlined the early warning signs and symptoms that are typical of Alzheimer’s disease. These include memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems, and difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work, or during leisure time. However, these early signs and symptoms are not meant to re-place an evaluation by a doctor trained in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias (ADOD).
Although there is no cure for ADOD, several studies have suggested that it may be possible to delay or prevent the onset of ADOD by practicing brain health strategies. Many of the recommendations for maintaining physical health can be used for brain health, such as eating a balanced diet, managing chronic conditions, and being physically active.
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Dementia is a term that is used to describe the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral faculties to the extent that it disrupts a person’s ability to perform and engage in regular everyday activities. In addition to Alzheimer’s disease other common types include Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.
The causes of dementia vary and are identified by the types of changes that are occurring in the brain. A variety of screening tools including blood tests, mental status assessment, and brain scans are used by doctors to diagnose the type of dementia and it is not uncommon for a person to be diagnosed with more than one form of dementia.
Other conditions that may result in memory loss or dementia include: (https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/topics/alzheimers-basics )
For a complete description of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in the San Diego region, see the two March 2015 and 2016 reports released by the Health and Human Services Agency: Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias in San Diego County available at: www.SDHealthStatistics.com or click on the icons below.