DEAR ABBY: More and more of my friends are trying to work and take care of parents who have Alzheimer's disease. One of my closest friends' husbands was recently diagnosed with it. He is only 62. I thought Alzheimer's was only memory loss, but it seems like so much more. His personality has changed. She tells me he gets angry with her when she tries to help him.
What exactly is Alzheimer's, and what can be done to stop it? -- UNSURE IN OAK PARK, ILLINOIS
DEAR UNSURE: I'm sorry to say -- from personal experience -- that Alzheimer's disease, while often thought of as "minor memory loss," is a disease that is ultimately fatal. Its cause is not yet understood. I lost my mother to it. Alzheimer's kills nerve cells and tissue in the brain, causing it to shrink dramatically. It affects a person's ability to communicate, to think and, eventually, to breathe. At least 44 million people worldwide are now living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. As our populations age, those numbers will swell to 76 million by 2030.
Currently there is no way to prevent, stop or even to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Some drugs manage the symptoms, but only temporarily. This is why more funding for Alzheimer's and more support for the families who are caring for loved ones who have it are so urgently needed. Please suggest to your friend that she contact the Alzheimer's Association for help because it offers support groups for spouses.
Readers, June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month. If you are concerned about Alzheimer's disease -- and we all should be -- you can get involved by joining the global fight against this very nasty disease. To learn more, visit alz.org/abam.