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Did you know that there are over 400 different types of dementia? The number of different types is staggering but the most common cause of dementia is due to Alzheimer’s disease. At least, that’s what the Alzheimer’s Association‘s published 2020 Facts and Figures reports. Other relatively common types of dementia include vascular, Lewy Body disease, frontotemporal dementia, and early-onset dementia. No matter the type, dementia can be traumatizing for both the person experiencing dementia and their family members.

 

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How Common is Alzheimer’s 

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) accounts for between 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases as of 2020. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease and a degenerative condition, however it can also cause other physical and mental issues. In most cases, memory loss and language problems are the first indicators there might be a problem, but the disease may have been present for up to 20 years without noticing symptoms. Difficulty remembering recent conversations, meals, names, or events as well as apathy and depression become prevalent in the early stages of the disease, which are often not yet medically diagnosed.

Alzheimer’s risk factors include age, genetics, family history, and lifestyle. The majority of people who develop AD are 65 and older, making age the most serious risk factor for late-onset AD. In fact, the percentage of people living with Alzheimer’s increases dramatically with age. People age 65-74 account for three percent of the cases, people age 75-84 account for 17 percent, and those who are 85 and older account for 32 percent of Alzheimer’s patients. It’s true that the disease is becoming commonplace in our society, It is not, however, a normal part of aging.

Genetics also plays a big role in contracting Alzheimer’s disease. Everyone inherits genes from their kin and, depending on the combination of genes you inherit and the cases of AD in your family, your risk of AD may increase or decrease based on genetics. There are also differences in gene predominance among racial and ethnic groups, but more research is needed to draw appropriate conclusions.

Contrary to popular belief, having no family history of AD does not stop you from getting it. Hence why genetics is just one of many potential risk factors. However, if you do have a first-degree relative, like a parent or sibling, with Alzheimer’s, you are at a higher risk. If there are more than one first-degree relatives with the disease, your risk continues to grow. Remember, when diseases run in families, more than just genetics is at play. Non-hereditary shared factors like levels of physical activity, access to healthy foods, sleep patterns, and lifestyle habits, including smoking, also play a role. These factors tend to be familial patterns as well, which can make it confusing to determine if the disease is really from genetics or from environmental factors. It’s important to be mindful of all the potential risk factors at play when examining your own risk for developing AD later in life.

It’s true that we can modify our risk factors to a certain extent. Things like regular physical activity, diabetes management, decreasing obesity and smoking, and managing hypertension are associated with a reduction in cognitive decline. Keeping your brain active with cognitive training also reduces the risk of degenerating cognition. Things like brain games, crosswords, puzzles, etc. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle does not prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but it can reduce your risk.

5.8 million Americans age 65 or more are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number may reach 14 million by 2050. US states report varying incidences of Alzheimer’s and there are massive impacts to state budgets as a result. Federal Medicare and Medicaid funding, county and community support levels, unpaid caregivers in family systems, and more are all important to take into consideration. Alzheimer’s disease has far-reaching effects on ourselves and our loved ones. Until the facts and statistics show a reversal in the prevalence of the disease, it is best to prepare for dementia eventuality somewhere in your family system.

How to Prepare for Alzheimer’s

How can you prepare for Alzheimer’s or another type of illness impacting your family? Plan ahead. Take the time to get your estate plan, living trust, will, and POAs in order before the end of life. Plan ahead so you know what to expect when you or your loved one becomes incapacitated. Since we don’t know when that might be, we recommend you start planning ahead now.

At Michaelson & Associates, we help families prepare for an unknown future. In case of illness, emergency, sudden death, we are here to help you plan ahead and can walk you through guardianship if sickness strikes before the full plan was in place. If you would like to discuss your particular concerns regarding sickness and estate planning or guardianship, please contact us to schedule a meeting at 702-731-2333.