Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia in the U.S., as roughly 1 in 9 Americans over the age of 65 are currently living with the diagnosis according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Roughly 3 million new cases are diagnosed every year and over 11 million Americans are currently working as unpaid caregivers for a loved one with the disease. In order to bring more awareness to Alzheimer’s and those it affects, the nation’s leading medical organizations have named November as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
While most scientists still don’t fully understand the root cause of the disease, they can agree on certain factors that make some populations more susceptible to the diagnosis.
Who’s Most Vulnerable
Age is the most prominent factor in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Almost 11% of Americans over the age of 65 are currently living with the diagnosis, and the CDC estimates that the likelihood of developing the disease doubles every five years after reaching the 65-year mark.
Almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. Researchers still don’t have a definitive answer as to why women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but many point to the longer average lifespan of women versus men.
Black and Hispanic Communities
A major factor behind developing Alzheimer’s is a lack of access to good healthcare facilities and strong educational providers, which are two barriers that are more prominent within Black and Hispanic communities. The Alzheimer’s Association found that older Black Americans are roughly twice as likely to develop the disease as white Americans, while Hispanics are roughly one and a half times as likely.
For this reason, in areas of the country where these demographics are more strongly concentrated, so too are the number of Alzheimer’s cases. Miami-Dade County, Baltimore, and Bronx County in particular are the three most densely populated areas in terms of Alzheimer’s cases.
Alzheimer’s vs Age-Associated Memory Impairment
Although Alzheimer’s is very common in many older Americans, it is NOT a normal part of the aging process. On the contrary, age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) IS a normal part of aging, and it’s important to differentiate the two.
As we age, it’s normal to experience things such as:
- Mild forgetfulness
- Slower memory recall
- Difficulty multitasking
- Weaker sense of focus
On the surface these signs of aging are very similar to the symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s, however, there is one key difference: they do not seriously impact quality of life.
- Symptoms of dementia are much more amplified than the above signs of aging. Dementia induces:
- Confusion or heightened paranoia
- Problems with language and processing information
- Behavioral changes and difficulty with activities of daily living
The Alzheimer’s Society provides a great table of example situations that highlight the differences between normal aging and symptoms of dementia. A few of those examples are highlighted below:
[Example 1] AAMI – Forgetting something you were told a while ago
[Example 1] Dementia – Forgetting something you were told recently or repeatedly asking the same question
[Example 2] AAMI – Being slow or taking a while to plan things out
[Example 2] Dementia – Becoming confused when trying to work out details or plan
[Example 3] AAMI – Losing track of a conversation or topic if multiple people are speaking or there are outside distractions
[Example 3] Dementia – Regularly being unable to follow a conversation even without outside distractions
Age-related memory loss is typically caused by the body slowing down the production of hormones and proteins that help protect and stimulate the brain – not because of a disease or ailment. In other words, it’s normal.
We understand that noticing any signs of aging similar to the symptoms of dementia can be cause for concern. If you or a loved one is experiencing any increase in anxiety or the worsening of any dementia-related symptoms, we recommend that you visit the doctor and get everything checked out.
Even in instances where dementia happens to be the case, people living with the diagnosis can still enjoy happy lives for much of the process. SYNERGY HomeCare utilizes a comprehensive Memory Care Program that can help protect quality of life and ensure a person with dementia is receiving the care they need.
Dr. Macie P. Smith is a licensed gerontology social worker who is focused on helping families support their aging loved ones through long-term care. Specifically, Dr. Smith educates caregivers on how to care for seniors with dementia. She is an advocate for specialized care and assists others in finding a way to provide a better quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Smith has dedicated over 22 years of her life working in gerontology and assisting families in finding personalized solutions for dementia care. For more articles by Dr. Macie Smith, go to https://synergyhomecare.com/blog/.
For more information on caring for a loved one with dementia, download SYNERGY HomeCare’s free Memory Care Guide.