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Live Vibrantly - September 29, 2020

Let’s Talk About Dementia: Raising Awareness Will Help Millions

By Kathie Miller

Every three seconds, someone in the world develops dementia. It takes about three seconds to read the previous sentence, so just in the time you’re reading the first, short paragraph of this article, three people will have developed dementia.

Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Because of this, it is often misunderstood and stigmatized. And because it is misunderstood and stigmatized, people often downplay or even hide it if they think it might be happening to them or a loved one.

According to Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 persons aged 65 and older is living with dementia. At present in the United States, 5.7 million people are living with the disease; another 16.1 million people provide unpaid care to help them—that’s a total of 21.8 million Americans who are grappling with the challenges of dementia. The current pandemic has intensified some of their challenges.

Raising awareness of dementia is a simple step we can all take to help.

World Alzheimer’s Month

Every September, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) organizes a campaign to raise awareness about dementia. Calling upon a worldwide network of organizations, ADI encourages a range of activities that foster greater understanding and challenge the stigma of dementia. While Goodwin House is not directly affiliated with ADI, we benefit from their resources as we also aim to bring our communities together to address issues and concerns related to dementia.

Addressing concerns related to dementia is a key focus at Goodwin House. We ensure that our staff are all trained in dementia awareness, and our Dementia Advance Team was recognized by LeadingAge Virginia as the first recipient of the Dementia Friends Champion of the Year Award.

Goodwin House is dedicated to doing our part in raising awareness and reducing the stigma associated with dementia.

About World Alzheimer’s Month

Before there was a month dedicated to raising awareness, ADI marked its 10th anniversary by launching the first World Alzheimer’s Day (September 21) in 1994. As this day of awareness grew in scope and reach, ADI expanded its efforts and started World Alzheimer’s Month in 2012.

In 2019, more than 90 countries participated in this month-long campaign. Around the globe, people are realizing the reach and impact this condition can have. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes dementia as a matter of public health, as evidenced by the 2017 release of the WHO global action plan.

The Reach by the Numbers

Statistics can go a long way in helping to illustrate the impact of conditions such as dementia. Here are some international numbers to help present the picture of what we face together, globally (sourced from ADI):

  • More than 50 million people around the world are living with dementia.
  • Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds.
  • The number of people living with dementia is predicted to triple, rising to 152 million by 2050.
  • The economic burden of dementia is $1trillion every year, a figure that will double by 2050.
  • Almost 80% of the public are concerned about developing dementia at some point.
  • 1 in 4 people think that there is nothing we can do to prevent dementia.
  • 35% of caregivers said that they have hidden the diagnosis of dementia of a family member.
  • Over 50% of caregivers say their health has suffered as a result of their caring responsibilities.
  • Almost 62% of healthcare providers worldwide think that dementia is part of normal ageing.

What Is Dementia?

While most of us hear about dementia more and more all the time, there is still a considerable amount of misunderstanding and misinformation about it.

As the ADI writes: “Dementia is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behavior and emotion. Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are the most common types of dementia, responsible for up to 90% of cases of dementia.”

The symptoms of dementia include:

  • loss of memory
  • difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying
  • difficulty in performing previously routine tasks
  • personality and mood changes

You can also learn more about dementia from the Alzheimer’s Organization, which offers a wealth of resources as well.

The Impact of Dementia

Every person diagnosed with dementia experiences it in their own way, but over time, they will become incapable of taking care of themselves and will require assistance with even the most basic activities of daily living. While there are currently no cures for dementia, there are treatments and support that can make a difference in the lives of those living with the condition. One support is our StrongerMemory program.

Dementia can affect anyone. It does not have boundaries. As the condition progresses, dementia has an impact on not just those diagnosed with it, but those around them. Family members often find themselves in the role of caregivers, and as mentioned above, this can take a toll on their health and wellbeing, too.

This year has presented many unprecedented challenges around the globe. Due to stay at home orders and social distancing, the current pandemic has had a profound effect on those living with dementia.

As Paola Barbarino, CEO Alzheimer’s Disease International, writes: “2020 is such a crucial year for raising awareness about a group who are most susceptible to facing severe symptoms of COVID-19 as well as social isolation. Please do everything you can to get people talking about dementia.”

Let’s Talk About Dementia

At Goodwin House, dementia has been part of what we do since we first opened our doors in 1967. Realizing the increasing impact it will have on all our lives, we launched more focused efforts around dementia in 2018, with the creation of our Dementia Advance Team.

This interdisciplinary team is engaged in a range of activities and meets regularly to share insights, learn from one another and consider new projects and tools Goodwin House might bring to our care and services. If you have a concern or idea you’d like to share with us, please reach out.

Additional Resource from ADI: 5 Ways to Help Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

  1. Look after Your Heart
    Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity all damage the blood vessels and increase the risk for having a stroke or a heart attack, that could contribute to developing dementia in later life. These problems can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices and should be treated effectively if they do occur.
  2. Be Physically Active
    Physical activity and exercise are powerful preventive medicines, helping you control your blood pressure and weight, as well as reducing the risk of type II diabetes and some forms of cancer. There is also some evidence to suggest that some kinds of physical activity can reduce the risk of developing dementia. The good news is that getting active is proven to make us feel good and is a great activity to do with friends and family.
  3. Follow a Healthy Diet
    Food is fuel for both brain and body. We can help both to function properly by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Some evidence suggests that a Mediterranean-type diet, rich in cereals, fruits, fish, legumes and vegetables can help to reduce the risk of dementia. While more studies are needed on the benefits of specific foods or supplements, we do know that eating lots of foods which are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and is best avoided.
  4. Challenge Your Brain
    By challenging the brain with new activities, you can help build new brain neurons and strengthen the connections between them. This may counter the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia pathologies. By challenging your brain, you can learn some great new things. So how about learning a new language or taking up a new hobby?
  5. Enjoy Social Activities
    Social activities may be beneficial to brain health because they stimulate our brain reserves, helping to reduce our risk of dementia and depression. Try and make time for friends and family. You can even combine your activities with physical and mental exercise through sport or other hobbies.

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As Corporate Director of Marketing & Communications, Kathie Miller provides strategic guidance and tactical support for all areas of Goodwin House. She writes, edits and manages The Good Life blog and newsletter. Kathie joined GHI in 2014 after nearly 15 years at NPR, where she honed her skills in brand and reputation management, content marketing and internal communications. Originally from Pennsylvania, Kathie has slowly come to realize she’s lived in Arlington for more than half her life and should call herself a Virginian. She enjoys the outdoors and brings her rescue dog, Remi, to work every day.

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