Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. This progressive brain disease develops slowly but has a huge impact on those who are living with it, their families, and caregivers.

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Illustration by Bailey Mariner

The number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing. The ripple effect is straining families, communities, and the healthcare system, yet talking about the disease on a personal level can be difficult.

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month because it can happen in any family, and because it’s worth talking about the challenges of living with or caring for someone with this disease.

You may notice splashes of teal and purple sprouting up this November, as both colors are associated with Alzheimer’s awareness. Teal is the color of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, chosen for its calming effect. Purple is the signature color of the Alzheimer’s Foundation, which stands for strength in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Year-round Alzheimer’s awareness events

June is the Alzheimer’s Association’s Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. They hold a major fundraising event — the Longest Day — on June 21, which is the summer solstice.

September is Alzheimer’s Disease International’s World Alzheimer’s Month with September 21st designated as World Alzheimer’s Day.

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Here are a few ways to take part in Alzheimer’s Awareness Month:

  • Wear teal or display purple ribbons to show your support.
  • Share facts about Alzheimer’s over social media.
  • Consider sharing your personal experiences with Alzheimer’s.
  • Learn ways to potentially lower your risk of Alzheimer’s.
  • Get a free, virtual memory screening and discuss cognitive symptoms with a doctor.
  • Volunteer to fill in for a caregiver.
  • Spend time with someone living with Alzheimer’s.
  • Join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s by donating, walking, or even forming your own team.
  • Contact an Alzheimer’s nonprofit for awareness month information.

Donate to Alzheimer’s organizations

Donate directly to an organization that supports people affected by Alzheimer’s such as:

Take part in clinical trials

Consider joining a clinical trial or study. Learn more:

The AHEAD study is looking for participants for a trial to investigate a treatment that might slow or stop the earliest brain changes in people at high risk of Alzheimer’s.

Facts about Alzheimer’s disease

  • About 6.7 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It’s the most common form of dementia.
  • It can start 20 years or more before symptoms appear.
  • Researchers believe that Alzheimer’s is due to an abnormal accumulation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Although they don’t know why this accumulation occurs, it may involve a combination of factors, including factors that may be:
    • genetic
    • environmental
    • lifestyle-related
  • About 5% to 6% of cases are “early onset,” meaning symptoms start before the age of 65 years.
  • Compared with other older adults, those with dementia have twice as many hospital stays per year.
  • There are great variations, but the average life span after diagnosis is 4 to 8 years.
  • It’s the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of mortality worldwide.
  • Among people age 65 years or older, the Alzheimer’s mortality rate rose 70% from 2000 to 2020.
  • In the United States, more than 11 million people provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
  • In 2022, unpaid caregivers provided about 18 billion hours of care valued at $339.5 billion.
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Alzheimer’s disease isn’t a normal part of aging, but age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s with onset usually occurring after the age of 65. Certain gene mutations, such as apolipoprotein E (APOE), may also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.

Other risk factors may include:

The frantic search for car keys, forgetting why you entered a room, or bumping into an acquaintance whose name you can’t remember: We’ve all been there. If things like that happen occasionally, there’s no cause for concern.

Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are more persistent and disruptive to daily life. Some examples are:

  • forgetting things you recently learned
  • repeating yourself
  • trouble performing familiar tasks
  • forgetting common words
  • misplacing things in odd places
  • getting lost on a familiar route
  • making poor decisions

Later signs and symptoms can include:

  • difficulty with complex mental tasks
  • rapid shifts in mood and personality changes
  • becoming sedentary and sleeping more
  • inability to care for yourself
  • physical decline

Screening and diagnosis

Right now, there’s no single test for Alzheimer’s, though doctors can screen for the signs of cognitive decline that may be due to Alzheimer’s. Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease may involve:

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Currently, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but two drugs approved to treat Alzheimer’s may help slow disease progression: aducanumab (Aduhelm) and lecanemab (Leqembi).

Talk with a doctor

Be sure to have a conversation with a doctor about the use, side effects, and efficacy of aducanumab and lecanemab. Although recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), both medications require close monitoring and follow-up.

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In addition to lifestyle adjustments and coping strategies, some medications may help temporarily improve symptoms, though they don’t change the course of the disease.

Medications for memory, cognition, and behavior symptoms may include:

Antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, or a combination of both are also sometimes used for behavioral or psychological symptoms.

Ongoing research

Researchers the world over are working on potential treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s disease.

The National Institute on Aging is currently funding more than 450 active clinical trials on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias as well as 30 Alzheimer’s disease research centers. The Alzheimer’s Association funds researchers through its International Research Grant Program.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It’s a progressive brain disease that develops slowly but has a huge impact on those who have it, their families, and caregivers.

With ever-growing numbers of people affected, Alzheimer’s has an oversized effect on communities, healthcare systems, and the economy.

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Please take a moment to raise funds for research, learn more, or share what you know about Alzheimer’s disease. The disease isn’t a normal part of aging, and it’s worth talking about.