March 16, 2018

Representatives from the Alzheimer’s Association National Capital Area Chapter visited Waldorf West library on Tuesday to deliver their Know the 10 Signs presentation, a program designed to educate families and assist in early detection of the disease.

Programs and services manager Nancy Quarles and constituent events manager LaKeysha Boyd-Moore welcomed a handful of local residents for the event, which featured a PowerPoint presentation and video clips from citizens diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The goal was to open a discussion about the disease in order to provide better treatment and earlier diagnoses, key factors in preserving the lives of those at risk.

“With this disease, unfortunately there is a lot of stigma attached to it,” Quarles said. “We as a community, we have to do a better job of wanting to talk about this and being open to having a conversation about it.”

Quarles is based in Prince George’s County, while Boyd-Moore operates primarily in Southern Maryland. The latter was in charge of last year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s in La Plata, which drew more than 700 participants. Boyd-Moore said the outpouring of support showed they have to do more as an organization to support Southern Maryland. The 2018 Charles County walk is in September, but citizens have already raised over $8,000, according to the Alzheimer’s Association fundraising tracker.

Quarles opened by dispelling many of the myths associated with the disease, like how age is the primary risk factor, not genetics. The frequency is higher among women, but this is mostly due to females living longer than males. Memory loss or decreased cognitive function does not necessarily signal Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, which is why it’s important to make a clear distinction between the disease and the typical aging process.

“Not only are we physically aging, but our brains are also aging,” Quarles said. “We may process things a little bit differently. Having a harder time remembering something is very different from having a form of dementia like Alzheimer’s.”

In a similar vein, proper physical conditioning can improve, or at least preserve, mental capabilities even as one grows older. Quarles explained exercise and activity helps to maintain brain function, as well as a nutritious diet. Conversely, health concerns like diabetes, damages to the heart and serious head injuries increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“Good brain health really comes from a healthy body,” Quarles said. “It’s really important how we treat our bodies and what we do to our bodies.”

The warning signs may seem obvious when considered in a vacuum, but can be subtle and hard to pick up when dealing with a close relative or friend. Memory changes or problem-solving difficulties are red flags, along with struggles completing once-familiar tasks. Confusion with time and place or in conversation is a common indication of dementia, along with misplacing items or using poor judgment with finances. Internal changes like withdrawal from work or shifts in mood and personality may also signal the disease.

Action is the next step if any of these signs are present. Though there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, treatment and medication can slow its effects and provide a fruitful life for the patient. Friends and family who notice any of these changes are encouraged to act immediately.

“You have to talk with people about what has happened, what you’re experiencing or seeing or thinking,” Quarles said. “And then really important, a visit to a doctor. By all means, go to a doctor if any of those 10 signs are happening. Getting the right treatment as soon as possible is really crucial.”

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