From the moment of conception our bodies are constantly changing. As we age, some of these changes appear to be happening at light speed, such as the case in adolescents. At other stages of our lives, changes seem to occur at a snail’s pace. Not all changes are normal, though. As we reach late adulthood, some changes are normal and are to be expected. Your skin will lose its elasticity and begin to wrinkle; your hair will turn gray or even gradually fall out; your memory may even become less efficient, making it take longer to learn new things or recall others. Many people believe that Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia, is just a normal, albeit unfortunate, sign of aging. However, this is not true.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, making up 60 to 80 percent of cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is a progressive disease in which the symptoms worsen over the span of a number of years. The earliest symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty learning new information. As the disease progresses, however, symptoms can also include disorientation; mood and behavior changes; confusion about events, time, and place; suspicions about family and friends; and difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s at the moment, its symptoms can be treated and research is ongoing.
For patients with Alzheimer’s, as well as their families, the diagnosis can be very daunting. It can difficult for the patient and family members to handle on an emotional level. According to a study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, family caregivers are at higher risk for anxiety and depression. There are several options available to provide the much-needed support that these families need.
One of the resources available to caregivers through the Alzheimer’s Association are Caregiver Support Groups. They provide a place to work through challenges and develop positive coping mechanisms, share feelings or concerns, and learn about other resources available in your community. These support groups are facilitated by trained individuals and groups are available designed specifically for those whose family member has developed the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
According to Veronica Gomez, the development manager of the Alzheimer’s Association San Antonio & South Texas Chapter, there are many resources in the Rio Grande Valley.
“The Alzheimer’s Association is in the Valley more often than people realize,” she said. “The need has been heard and we offer free educational materials, presentations, family care consultations, and host events to promote awareness and raise funds for research.” There are also bilingual support groups in Edinburg, Harlingen, and Brownsville.
One of the most difficult things about caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is dealing with the day-to-day issues that arise, as well as planning for the future so that their loved one’s needs are heard and respected. Gomez, whose grandfather died of Alzheimer’s, believes that having the difficult conversations to gain an understanding of the disease and what will ensue is important so that the caregiver and family can focus on the moment instead of stressing out.
The Alzheimer’s Association website, alz.org, has a lot of good information for both the patient and the caregiver. For individuals who do not have access to in-person support groups, there is also a 24-hour hotline, as well as online support groups and message boards. In addition, Gomez recommends using CommunityResourceFinder.org, which is a sister page of alz.org that lists resources by zip code.
“It’s updated often and we encourage all medical entities to register their facility or company free on the site,” she said.
Gomez was born in Brownsville and advocates wholeheartedly for Alzheimer’s resources and education in the Rio Grande Valley. She loves the culture and the passion in the Valley, and says that drive can be used “to help one another, whether we have a direct connection or not.” Since 2010, she has been working to raise awareness in the community and to raise funds for researching a cure for Alzheimer’s.
“We host two Walk to End Alzheimer’s events, one in Brownsville and one in Edinburg,” Gomez said. “We encourage everyone to join us and help turn the Valley purple.” Purple is the official color for Alzheimer’s awareness.