By now, nearly anyone interested in Alzheimer's and other types of dementia has come into contact with at least one reminder that November is National Alzheimer's Awareness Month.
What good does it do to have an "awareness" campaign for a disease that is already on the tip of nearly everyone's tongue? Aren't we aware enough?
While most readers on www.ouralzheimers.com have some knowledge about Alzheimer's, many remain confused. Some people still ask what the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia is (Alzheimer's is a type of dementia). Others are rightly confused by the fact that they have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but this person isn't showing "classic symptoms." Still others view the disease as totally untreatable. Many folks don't know that Alzheimer's is considered a terminal illness.
There Are Different Levels of Awareness
People who have dementia, or have loved ones who are afflicted, generally seek out every piece of information obtainable. When we are affected by something this devastating, there's a hunger to learn more. What part of the brain is affected? How long before more severe symptoms show up? How long will I, or my loved one, live? What plans should we make for the future?
Recently, ABC News aired an excellent series called The Shriver Report: 2010. Maria Shriver, whose father has Alzheimer's disease, hosted the series. In The Shriver Report: Evidence Shows Intra-Nasal Insulin Could Improve Memory in Alzheimer's Patients, I reported on the segment that covered a study showing that an already available drug which is used for diabetics may help those with Alzheimer's.
This segment was only one of several new approaches mentioned in the series. However, the most likely benefit from this exceptional reporting is that public awareness of Alzheimer's disease and the devastation it causes - not only to the person with the disease, but to entire families - was dramatically raised.
This series, which can still be viewed online on the ABC New site, provided amazing footage of real people telling their personal, heart-breaking stories vividly detailing how Alzheimer's has affected their lives.
One woman's story had such power that she and her family will be a part of my mind and heart for some time to come. The woman's husband is in his fifties, and has had to quit his job because he has early on-set Alzheimer's disease. They have one daughter in the middle-school years. Because this husband and father can no longer work, they've had to downsize and move to a different neighborhood with a different school. The daughter, in an already difficult phase of life, is not adjusting well. The face of this wife and mother, telling her story, is one of grief, fatigue and grim determination to take it all one day at a time. She says, as she is filmed dropping off her angry daughter, that she can't even bear to think further ahead than the next step.