Learning about Alzheimer's

Dr. Erin Yelland discusses the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the Alliance Room at the Memorial Building.

ADRIENNE WAHL

Community members were educated Wednesday evening about the symptoms and effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Erin Yelland, assistant professor and Extension specialist at Kansas State University, gave the presentation after personnel at the Southwind Extension Office invited her to help raise awareness about the disease.

“It’s really the most devastating disease affecting Americans currently,” Yelland said. “The number one reason people don’t get diagnosed is because they’re really unaware of why they should get diagnosed or what those warning signs are.”

There are warning signs of the disease according to Yelland. Memory loss, like forgetting important dates, repeating information, and relying on reminders to function can all be indicators of something wrong. 

Difficulties in problem-solving or an inability to focus as well as difficulty completing what normally familiar tasks at work or driving to familiar locations is also frequent sign. Confusion about time and place is often present, especially as the disease progresses. 

Visual information can also be hard to interpret for those with Alzheimer’s, such as the inability to judge distances or difficulties with reading. Conversing and writing abilities can also suffer, as many people with Alzheimer’s disease seem disinterested in conversation or call people or items by the wrong name. 

Losing items in bizarre places – Yelland gave the example of placing shoes in a freezer – or not being able to trace steps to find missing items can also be a red flag. 

People with the disease tend to have poor judgement, and are especially susceptible to scams and poor financial decisions. 

Often there are distinct changes in mood and personality, as well as a tendency to withdraw from activities and social events. Social isolation is often self-imposed.

“Alzheimer’s isn’t like flipping a switch,” she said. “You’re going to know something is wrong. Many times people are afraid of others finding out.”

After going through the warning signs, Yelland noted that these are common things that happen to everyone, but when they become a pattern, it indicates a problem.

“I want you to remember that these things happen occasionally, that’s not something we’re going to worry about,” she said, “but when these things start happening repeatedly, we need to be concerned.”

Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. It cannot be prevented or slowed, but diagnosing the disease as early as possible can make a world of difference in preparing for a future with Alzheimer’s.  

After diagnosis, there are important steps to take. Yelland suggested ensuring that directives for care when the disease progresses, planning for the financial future, and taking advantage of the few available symptomatic treatments or participating in a clinical trial to help researchers understand the disease. 

Support is available for both those diagnosed or caring for someone that has been diagnosed. The Alzheimer’s Association can be accessed at www.alz.org and through a toll-free number, 1-800-272-3900. Locally there is a caregiver support group, Breakfast Club for Alzheimer’s Care Partners, that meets the first Wednesday of the month at 9 am in the fellowship hall of the First United Methodist Church, 202 S. Lincoln. 

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