By Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr.
As we move along in the month of November, we look forward to the approaching holidays and spending time with family and friends. Yet, for all the joy the holidays bring, they can also be a time that we notice changes in our parents or grandparents, especially if we live some distance away.
Perhaps we see instances of forgetfulness, or maybe it seems our loved one is having difficulty completing familiar tasks, such as driving to a familiar spot or preparing a favorite recipe. That can make us uncomfortable. We may get frustrated, or may just choose to ignore it and dismiss it as a fluke.
But these signs can be indicative of a larger brain health issue. November is both Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month—an ideal time to talk with loved ones about these changes and to take a proactive approach to brain health and self-care.
To help people start the conversation, two national nonprofit organizations—the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC)—kicked off an educational campaign to help people recognize signs of a possible brain health or memory issue, to talk with their loved ones about it, and to take a proactive approach to getting to the root of the issue and seeking appropriate treatment. With a free conversation kit, available at http://www.caregiving.org/talkbrainhealth/, and a free webinar on December 9, the campaign aims to eliminate the stigma that surrounds talking about memory concerns.
In addition, AFA has teamed up with Kmart Pharmacy to offer free, confidential memory screenings at every single Kmart Pharmacy location in the U.S., every day throughout the month of November, during normal business hours. A memory screening is similar to many other routine health check-ups—it is simple, non-invasive and lasts only five to 10 minutes.
Screenings consist of a series of questions and tasks designed to gauge memory, thinking and language abilities. A screening is not a diagnosis of any kind, but scoring below the normal threshold can suggest that someone should see a physician for a thorough evaluation. For more information on memory screenings or to locate a nearby screening site, visit www.nationalmemoryscreening.org.
It is important to keep in mind that there are a number of reasons someone could be experiencing memory problems, and many of them are treatable or curable. Such problems include vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, depression and interaction of medications. If a memory problem does turn out to be Alzheimer’s disease, early detection can afford a person the opportunity to take advantage of medications that may help slow the progression of symptoms or to participate in a clinical trial. It also offers a chance to participate in care planning conversations with family members.
It is equally important that people have somewhere to turn for support. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offers a national toll-free helpline, staffed by licensed social workers, who can answer questions, and provide caregiving tips and strategies, as well as referrals to local resources. Support groups are another great outlet for caregivers. These groups allow a caregiver to share feelings, get support from peers and a trained facilitator, and take a much-needed time-out from their caregiving duties.
It’s time to talk about brain health. It’s time to put the stigma that surrounds memory problems behind us. It is only through continued dialogue and raising awareness that we can hope to make Alzheimer’s disease just a memory. For more information about programs and resources for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers, call 866-232-8484.
Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. is president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA).