This June, get your purple on for Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness month!

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It is estimated that nearly six million people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). But there is still a lot of confusion about this disease, so let’s break it down:

What exactly is Alzheimer’s and what causes it?

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. Dementia is a general term that is used to describe symptoms like memory loss and a change in judgment, intellectual function or language. It is caused by physical changes in the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is just one of several types of dementia, although it is the most common type. (Other types of dementia can include dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia.)

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and degenerative disorder that attacks the cells and nerves in the brain. The breakdown of these cells destroys certain mental functions such as memory, language and behavioral skills. Although the actual causes of Alzheimer’s are still unknown, when examined, a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will usually have two types of abnormalities on their brain. The first abnormality is plaque, which is a clump of protein called beta-amyloid that damages the brain. The buildup of plaque surrounds the outside of the brain cells causing interference with cell-to-cell communication. The second abnormality is tangles. Since brain cells need a transport system to carry nutrients, the threads that transport these nutrients twist into tangles causing a failure of transport. The breakdown in transportation is thought to be believed as a contributing factor in the decline of the brain cells.

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering new information because Alzheimer’s usually first impacts the part of the brain associated with learning. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include disorientation, confusion and behavioral changes. Later, speaking, swallowing and walking usually become difficult, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s does not currently have a cure (although researchers are working on one), but there are treatment options that may temporarily slow down its symptoms and improve a person’s quality of life. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors. If you or a loved one thinks they have Alzheimer’s, consult a physician.

And if it turns out there is an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, consider enlisting private care services to help with daily activities. At the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA), we specialize in helping patients with Alzheimer’s. VNA Private Care services include bathing and dressing, light meal preparation, light housekeeping, transportation, and music therapy. By providing these services, we not only help the patient but their caregiver as well by giving them much needed respite.

For more information about the home care services the VNA offers, visit And for more information about Alzheimer’s, visit Alzheimer’s Association at

This information is for educational purposes. Please consult your physician regarding any medical issues. The Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) is committed to bringing trusted and quality home health, private care and hospice to Indian River County patients. For more information about VNA services, call 772-567-5551 or visit

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