port of harlem magazine
Theo Hodge, Jr. M.D.
Ways to Manage (Obvious) Cognitive Decline

Jun 1 – Jun 14, 2023


Key Takeaways

Many of us have experienced the heartbreak of watching a loved one's memory and connection with family and friends slip away. Today, an estimated 6.7 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and experts expect that number to increase rapidly as the baby boomer generation ages.

"Alzheimer's disease is a leading cause of death in the US and the number of people living with the disease is expected to grow because of the large increase in the number of adults age 65 and over, the age group that is at increased risk of Alzheimer’s," says Monica Moreno, senior director, care and support at the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association. "One in 9 individuals over the age of 65 and one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia."

Alzheimer's is one of the main forms of dementia, which involves impaired brain function, the loss of short-term memory, and trouble completing even basic, familiar daily tasks. Caring for family members with this disease can take an emotional as well as financial toll on families. Arranging for the care of a person suffering from dementia can be complex and expensive. Adding to that complexity, patients are often unable to manage or understand their finances.

What can families do? Although there is no cure for these types of illnesses, there are steps you can take now to reduce the impact of dementia on those affected. To the degree families are able to acknowledge the signs of a progressive disease early, they can begin to align around the emotional realities and impact on the family. “Be empathetic to the fears of those most directly affected and remember that fear is behind the antagonistic behavior we sometimes experience," says Dr. Timothy Habbershon, managing director of the Fidelity Center for Family Engagement. "Be 'caringly bold' to establish family dialogue around all aspects of the disease process. And talk through family member roles and what partnership help you might need.”

When is a change a sign of dementia?

When a loved one shows signs of a change in judgment or memory, the first step is to determine whether it's a normal sign of aging or something else. Many of us will experience some type of cognitive impairment as we age. Indeed, many older people find their short-term memory is less sharp, and it's more difficult to multitask (see table below).

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