Three Most Common Questions About Alzheimer’s & Dementia

CC: Kamalakanta Jena via Wikimedia Commons

CC: Kamalakanta Jena via Wikimedia Commons

Today is the summer solstice – the longest day of the year, but it also marks the Alzheimer’s Association’s national awareness movement celebrating the strength of those facing Alzheimer’s disease.

“On The Longest Day, teams around the world come together to honor the strength, passion and endurance of those facing Alzheimer’s with a day of activity.

Held on the summer solstice, June 21, 2014, this event calls on participants to raise funds and awareness to advance the efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.”  ~ thelongestday.org

If you’d like to join the activities, head over to the Find A Team page to identify which of the 19 Arizona participants might be near you.

In recognition of the awareness day, we spoke to Marty Finley, M.Ed., who manages Sun Health Memory Care Navigator Program - a free service for those in the West Valley struggling to cope with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Thanks to community donations and funds raised by the Sun Health Foundation, personalized support is completely free to anyone who needs it. The Memory Care Navigator prepares an individualized plan of care tailored to each patient’s needs and serves as a liaison between patients and families, their physicians, and ancillary community services (learn more here). Similar services provided by a private geriatric care manager typically start at $350 – $400 for an assessment and plan of care.

Marty, what is the most common question you are asked?

“The most common question is ‘What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?’

Dementia is an umbrella term indicating a decline in cognitive abilities severe enough to disrupt daily activities. There are more than 70 different types of dementia, but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.”

“I’d compare dementia to transportation. The word transportation can include bicycles, planes, cars, trains, scooters, buses and multiple other things. In America, the most common form of transportation is an automobile. When it comes to forms of dementia, the most prevalent one is Alzheimer’s disease.”

How can you tell the difference between Alzheimer’s and normal aging?

“It’s normal to misplace car keys, your purse or your wallet occasionally. Everyone does it. But it’s changes in normal behavior that can flag an issue – such as a person not normally forgetful who starts to lose their keys time after time, even though they’ve placed them in the same location for years. This would be a concern that should be brought to your physician’s attention.”

Marty Finley, M.Ed., Memory Care Navigator

“Articles commonly showcase examples that are too far along in the condition – such as forgetting what car keys are used for – but this type of example describes a person much further along in their progression of the disease. When watching for early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, you want to look for shifts in behavior that disrupt daily life, such as changes to normal patterns and habits.”

I’m worried – what is the first step?

“If you have concerns about your own memory or that of a loved one, please mention it to your physician, and ask for a referral to a neurologist for a full assessment and diagnosis. Families need to be proactive, rather than reactive. If I had a heart condition, I would go to a cardiologist; the same holds true for cognitive issues. If you have a concern about memory – which is a brain issue – neurologists are the experts.”

People who have a loved one or family member with dementia (including but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease) and are interested in the free Memory Care Navigator program may contact Marty at marty.finley (at) sunhealth (dot) org, or by calling (623) 832-9300.