Living with Alzheimer’s

How one organization helps people affected by the disease.

You notice your mom is having a hard time remembering how to make coffee and balance her checkbook. She becomes easily agitated these days and seems somewhat paranoid. Your mom has even forgotten your son’s name and gotten lost coming home from the grocery store, though it’s a trip she’s been taking for years.

If this sounds familiar, your mom may have Alzheimer’s. The first thing you should do is take her to the doctor. Early detection and an accurate diagnosis are essential for the future care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

If the conclusion is that your mother does in fact have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you should know you’re not alone. You should also note that the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter is an important resource that provides all kinds of free services to people who have Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as their caregivers and families.

The statistics are frightening. Every 70 seconds an American develops Alzheimer’s. It’s now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. More than a quarter million New York City residents suffer from Alzheimer’s today. In the next five years, almost every New Yorker will have a family member, neighbor, colleague or friend who either has Alzheimer’s or is taking care of someone with the disease.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. As the disease progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behavior, including anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation, as well as delusions or hallucinations.

Not a normal part of aging, the disease generally strikes people starting at age 65. However, Young Onset Alzheimer’s, which accounts for up to 10 percent of Alzheimer’s cases, affects people as young as age 30. People in their 40s, 50s and early 60s can also be affected. Alzheimer’s is on its way to being the greatest health care crisis in the nation.

The New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers more than 140 support groups around the city, where you can find a caring place to discuss the challenges of caregiving, share your feelings and exchange information. The New York City Chapter also offers educational seminars on all aspects of Alzheimer’s and caregiving. The Family Caregiver Workshop, a ten-hour interactive seminar, includes topics such as understanding dementia, effective communication strategies, behaviors, safety in the home, caring for the caregiver and strength-based activities. All services for people with dementia and their family members are provided free of charge.

As a parent, you will no doubt need to tell your kids about this fatal disease and what the future holds. How do you explain to them what’s happening to your loved one? The New York City Chapter is developing a program for 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders to help children understand what Alzheimer’s is and how to handle the feelings associated with it in a way that isn’t scary. The organization’s professionally trained staff can also give parents advice on communicating with children and facilitating the coping process.

The New York City Chapter hosts numerous fundraisers throughout the year, including the 1st Annual Blondes vs. Brunettes (BvB) competition on May 21. The competition will bring a flag football game played by 50 of the city’s talented, bright and beautiful women in their 20s and 30s to raise money and support for the Alzheimer’s Association. Another fundraising event is the The Forget-Me-Not Gala on June 6, an evening of cocktails, a silent auction, dinner and dancing. Visit www.alz.org/nyc for further details on programming and the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The organization is a critically important resource for families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.

Find out how you can help or become an Alzheimer’s advocate at www.alz.org/nyc. In addition, you may call the 24-7 help line at (800)272-3900 if you have questions or just need to talk to someone.