Women and Alzheimer’s

Women let’s chat… we know both men and women get Alzheimer’s hence the need to have those uncomfortable conversations about the disease and how it’s affecting our lives. As a new brain develops Alz every 65 seconds, women are developing this disease at a disproportionately higher rate. Of the 5 million or more Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease two-thirds are women and studies are showing that it’s more prevalent in women compared to men because of lifestyle factors.

It’s not a disease due to old age as once thought to be the reason why women, who live longer than men, are at greater risk. But the early onset of Alzheimer’s may come about because of biological or genetic variations or social reasons such as differences in life experiences and choices, many which can be modifiable.

“Healthy lifestyle factors promote beneficial gene activity, while unhealthy lifestyle factors have the opposite effect. For example, women have higher rates of obesity and are less physically active. In addition, women have more mental health disorders, higher rates of insomnia, lower levels of educational attainment, and less mentally challenging occupations. All of these risk factors may be exacerbated by women’s lower socioeconomic status which is itself, a risk factor, ” notes Dr. Marie Pasinski.

Here are some facts from the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • In the US alone, about 13 MILLION WOMEN are either living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone who has it.
  • Almost TWO-THIRDS of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Women in their 60s are more than TWICE AS LIKELY to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.
  • MORE THAN 60% of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women. More specifically, over one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters.
  • Women take on MORE CAREGIVING TASKS than their male counterparts – and care for people with more cognitive, functional, and/or behavioral problems.
  • Nearly 19% of women Alzheimer’s caregivers had to QUIT WORK either to become a caregiver or because their caregiving duties became too burdensome.

Another risk factor to consider is serving in the role of a caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The majority of primary caregivers are women who are providing over 40 hours a week in care which cause many women to quit their job and/or face other negative impacts such as those listed above, including having economic insecurities, weight-gain, and depression.

When I was caring for my Mom, I remember asking myself when I fell ill or was beyond exhaustion, “who cares for the Caregiver?” I didn’t think I was depressed. I thought my inability or lack of enthusiasm to move forward with personal goals was due to being tired from my everyday duties. I decided to seek therapy which I highly recommend in general, and through talking with my therapist discovered much of what I was feeling and how I was handling things in relation to my life was brought on by my depression. One may not often know what to call it because depression’s symptoms mirror those of other conditions.

Here are facts on depression from Mental Health America:

  • Approximately 12 MILLION WOMEN in the United States experience clinical depression each year
  • About ONE in every EIGHT women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime
  • Social factors may also lead to higher rates of clinical depression among women, including stress from work, family responsibilities, the roles and expectations of women and increased rates of sexual abuse and poverty
  • Women experience depression at roughly TWICE THE RATE of men
  • Fewer than half of the women who experience clinical depression will ever seek care experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men

These are our numbers ladies so what’s next? (and men too… we need all hands on deck)? We must have conversations about health and keep records of family medical history. Next let’s work to remove the stigma of mental health and Alzheimer’s by using your voice and advocating for and supporting our sister-caregivers.

Some may wonder how can they help. It may be fearful to ask, but help can come in the form of assisting with housekeeping, watching their loved one by keeping them entertained or fixing a meal which allows them to have a brief respite. You could offer to bring them groceries, a meal or medical supplies or be a support by talking with them, giving them a laugh; anything to lift their spirits and get their mind off of their duties will be appreciated.

You also have to continue the education on the relation to brain and physical health and learn to be the best version of ourselves. Remember a healthy body, our root, begets a healthy mind, our leaves. And we need to be our sister’s keeper by checking in on one another and as I always try to encourage, we need to share our stories. Knowledge is empowerment.

If you would like more information about Women and Alzheimer’s and the resources and support that’s available please visit the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.

For caregiver assistance or support, find tips here.

For depressions assistance go here.

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Brain and Body Health Connection – A Personal Moment About Gut Health

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I updated my original post because it felt empty after reading it. I provided my story, I needed to give you more of the why? Why is gut health important and what steps can you take to begin to get there. Starting with my own accountability to doing better.

The original…

I’ll be standing firmly on two feet soon (old pic) and while my foot’s healing, my system needs to as well. I’m speaking about “gut health”.

I have an intolerance to gluten. I’m not allergic, I can eat it, but it’s better for my system if I don’t. When the discovery was made years ago, I shared this with my then nutritionist, and she explained how this is a contributing factor to the slowing of my metabolism. I’d start off well, finding new alternatives to wheat which led to my love for Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but sure enough the old habits started coming back. Now years later having developed other issues, it all starts replaying in my mind.

Gluten isn’t the sole cause of my issues and being older ….and wiser, I’m discovering my on-again, off-again digestive issues such as Gerd and non-acid reflux, coupled with an inflammatory illness, can no longer be chalked up as a thing that happens after I eat certain foods. I’m learning how certain foods that I put into my body over time (along with hormones, and environment) have affected my system. I’m seeing a change with dairy products as well. I’m see that I’m headed towards being lactose intolerant; OK, who am I kidding, I’m probably there, but in denial.

I’ve come to accept that implementing change is more than reaching a goal on a scale, it’s about implementing lifestyle changes, that include getting educated and being consistent in what I do and eat. And I admit, I haven’t been good with consistency. Repetition begets a habit and I need to get into a habit of eating what’s healthy for my root, a new term that as I’ve learned. 

To paraphrase Dr. Vincent Pedre, a gut health expert; “in comparing our bodies to a tree you wouldn’t heal a tree by putting medicine on its leaves, you tend to it from the roots. Our digestive system/gut is the root of our bodies and that’s where our focus should begin. He says, “our gut lining is the biggest absorptive surface exposed to the outside world through what we eat. If we’re eating inflammatory foods, add in stress, GMO’s, food additives and coloring, it’s cooked up a leaky gut that leads to toxins, and more entering our system.”

The added…

Studies are showing the link between gut health, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, cancer, and the immune system.

We’re in a new space of learning that our bodies have evolved to live in harmony and depend on bacteria, fungi, and viruses in and on our bodies—especially gut bacteria. And that there’s both good and bad bacteria that affects our guts. Bad bacteria can come from external influences such as food, environmental toxins and even from effects of stress on our bodies which can lead to an unhealthy gut impacting your mental health, weight, mood and a number of other digestive disorders. Good bacteria which our bodies depend on for essential metabolic functions, helps to:

  • combat obesity
  • improve symptoms of depression,
  • Improves mood and mental health
  • Boosts energy levels
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Regulates hormone levels
  • Reduces yeast infection occurrences
  • Improves oral health
  • Contributes to longer life
  • reduces or eliminates gloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea.

So if you’re like me, wondering what can be done to improve not only my gut health, but my whole-body health, as there is so much information in the universe to absorb; I’ve discovered a few tips that can be used as a baseline that will help as you continue to do your own research and easily incorporated into your everyday practice. And remember if you are having continual stomach and/or inflammatory issues it’s important to see a gastroenterologist.

Food Tips for Good Gut Health

  • Eat more veggies
  • Eat more fiber (whole grains, nuts, legumes)
  • Eat Pre-biotic Rich Foods* which are found in non-digestible foods such as:
  • Bananas, onions and garlic,
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Apple skin
  • Chicory Root
  • Beans

Eat Pro-biotic Rich Foods* – which are found in fermented foods such as:

  • Yogurt – but avoid those with high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial sweeteners
  • Kefir – a fermented yogurt-like drink
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso soup
  • Kimchi
  • Pickles
  • Kombucha – a tea-like probiotic drink
  • Soft fermented cheeses (like Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan and Gouda)
  • Cottage Cheese (only those labeled “Live active cultures”)
  • Buttermilk
  • Reduce junk, fatty and sugary foods
  • Drink more water

*There are also pre and pro-biotic supplements you can take but do your research first.

I know this is a marathon and not a sprint, but after going around like a hamster on a wheel, I say if now when, otherwise I’ll be continually discussing my issues instead of taking my conversation further into how I’m doing hence my changes. Taking it one step at a time.

 

World Alzheimer’s Day 2018 – Eliminating the Stigma

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day a day that may only be important to someone who is caring/cared for a loved one or knows someone with the disease, but it’s a day dedicated to raising awareness that nearly 50 million people worldwide are living with this disease and to challenge the stigma surrounding it.

I’ve had a brief writer’s block a lot due to life stuff, but I’m here and what better day to inject my words and address the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s and dementia related diseases as well as to bring awareness to people of color on the high risk that we face.

There has been a shift within the past few years towards removing the stigma around mental illness and though Alzheimer’s falls under its own umbrella, those in this fight to end Alz can attest that it’s even harder to get people and businesses invested in, and talking about a disease that currently has no cure. But in rising awareness this is not a sprint it’s a marathon.

What keeps the stigma going?

Embarrassment, fear, culture, not speaking on illnesses, but it’s those fears that keep us close and stuck.

I’ve personally never had a fear of Alzheimer’s perhaps because I faced it with my maternal grandmother, but early on helping my mom, I definitely had moments of embarrassment where all I could do was to stand in that moment and react as best as I could. As I grew in my role as her caregiver, the embarrassment subsided, I had no time for it. I had to use my brain, my mind for the both of us and help her as she was experiencing changes that she had no control over.

As a caregiver you know that things are going to happen; I had to let them happen, I had to be as prepared as best I could be and when they (changes, words said, etc.) were going to happen, I knew that how I handled those changes was going to be key an most important.

I felt sorry for my mom and that empathy turned to my figuring out how to better help her and other caregivers. To begin to remove the stigma it began with talking and sharing and writing and becoming a voice for the voiceless.

As a woman of color, specifically a Black woman where our community doesn’t speak about health crisis as much as we should, raising awareness became increasingly prevalent.  Too often we sugarcoat things, or have feelings that something will subside; now bring in Alzheimer’s disease; a disease with no cure that changes the brain. Just because we don’t speak about something doesn’t mean it’s not going to show up in our lives and it also doesn’t mean that you or a loved one will get it, but we must begin to have conversations.

By staying silent about our medical history with love ones it only hurts ourselves. For instance, there is a link between hypertension and diabetes and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Blacks and Latinos are two times at risk for developing Alzheimer’s. And while genetic factors aren’t known to explain a higher-risk, conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes do. Even socio-economic disadvantages (income affects healthcare) also plays a role. This awareness on how physical and heart health is linked to brain health shows that we have to support one another and encourage each another to get support services and available treatment when needed.

How can you spread awareness and help to stop the stigma?

  • Use your voice and have conversations.

 

  • Use appropriate and respectful phrases.

 

  • Correct misinformation regarding Alzheimer’s disease.

 

  • Help someone you know who may be a caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, it’ll give you a first-hand view.

 

  • Encourage the individual to pursue hobbies, perhaps offer a list of activities they can do at home.

 

  • Consult a physician.

 

  • Attend an event or fundraiser.

On this day even if your life or a loved one’s life hasn’t been touched by Alzheimer’s perhaps you can say a prayer for the person living with AD, for a caregiver or former caregiver or contact your local government office to ask that resources are increased for research and medical care, and to keep everybody lifted whose life has been affected by Alz.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and Women and Alzheimer’s here are a few of the many organizations that I support:

Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement

Alzheimer’s Association

Us Against Alzheimer’s 

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is becoming increasingly familiar because of the growing number of people living with it and other dementias. There are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and without effective treatment, prevention or cure, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase to 13. 5 by the year 2025.

The month of June, has been proclaimed as Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, where national awareness is given to the crisis of Alzheimer’s, the available resources, the family’s that are impacted by it, and how you can get involved to support the cause.

Unfamiliar with the disease? Here’s an overview on Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

*Dementia is caused from damage to the brain cells and is a general term for a decline in mental ability, memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia (i.e. resulting from a stroke) are too common forms of Dementia. There are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia,  such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies and while symptoms start out slowly, they gradually get worse.

Types of Dementia:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease (see below)
  • Vascular Dementia – Occurs because of brain injuries such as microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage.
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies – Lewy bodies are abnormal aggregations (or clumps) of the protein alpha-synuclein. When they develop in a part of the brain called the cortex, dementia can result.
  • Mixed Dementia – Characterized by the hallmark abnormalities of Alzheimer’s and another type of dementia
  • Parkinson’s – Degeneration of the nerve cells. Problems with movement are a common symptom early in the disease.
  • Frontotemporal lobar degeneration – People with bvFTD generally develop symptoms at a younger age (at about age 60) and survive for fewer years than those with Alzheimer’s.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – Believed to be caused by consumption of products from cattle affected by mad cow disease.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus – Caused by the buildup of fluid in the brain.

*Alzheimer’s – The most common form of Dementia, that’s not considered an illness of old age, but is a progressive disease that causes memory loss, and problems with thinking behavior.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s is remembering newly learned information and as it advances it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, such as disorientation, deepening confusion about events, time and place; mood and behavior changes; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and caregivers; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

7 Stages of Alzheimer’s:

  1. No impairment (normal function)
  2. Very mild cognitive decline (may be normal age-related changes or earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease)
  3. Mild cognitive decline
  4. Moderate cognitive decline
  5. Moderately severe cognitive decline. Gaps in memory and thinking are noticeable, and individuals begin to need help with day-to-day activities.
  6. Severe cognitive decline. Memory continues to worsen, personality changes may take place, individuals need extensive help with daily activities and they lose awareness of recent experiences and their surrounding.
  7. Very severe cognitive decline. Individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on a conversation and, eventually, to control movement.

* Information from the Alzheimer’s Association.