A Personal Look at Mental Health

Today’s blog comes to us from Sandy Severson, Vice President of Care Improvement at the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AzHHA). Ms. Severson shares her own personal account of a family member’s devastating diagnosis. Once you’ve had a chance to read it, we’d love to have you share your thoughts. Generating important discussions around the health issues affecting the people of our state is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!

I always knew that dementia and Alzheimer’s was on the rise, but it never really seemed important until my mother-in-law was diagnosed. I began reading everything I could and what I learned was alarming. The National Institutes of Health defines dementia as the loss of cognitive functioning – the ability to think, remember, or reason – to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. This includes memory, language skills, visual perception, problem solving, self-management, and the ability to focus and pay attention. It can also affect a person’s emotions, and their personalities may change. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of cases. Other types of dementia include Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Frontotemporal, Vascular, to name a few, but these are less common. It’s best to see a neurologist for diagnosis and treatment.   The Alzheimer’s Association reports in their 2018 Infographic that Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States affecting 16.1 million Americans with a 123% increase between 2000 and 2015. It kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, with 1 in 3 seniors dying with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Arizona Life Expectancy reports it is the second leading cause of death in the state.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States affecting 16.1 million Americans

With my mother-in-law, I was the first to notice her forgetting things like where her grandson lives, frustration with not being able to find her words, forgetting family member’s birthdays, and crying a lot over something we thought was insignificant. She stopped doing things around the house such as making coffee, paying bills, cooking and driving, as she seemed fearful of these things. It seemed as if she just forgot how to do them. As we watched her slow withdrawal from the things she loved to do, we wanted to learn more about what to expect.

Risk factors for dementia are age, high blood pressure, stroke, alcohol use, atherosclerosis, diabetes, Down Syndrome, genetics, head injuries such as a traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s and smoking. Currently there are no treatments to stop or slow dementia but there are medications to treat certain behavioral symptoms. For Alzheimer’s disease there are drugs that can temporarily improve or stabilize memory and thinking skills in some people.

Currently there are no treatments to stop or slow dementia….

While Alzheimer’s is considered incurable the duration of the disease can be long, the terminal stage of the disease many not occur for many years, long after the decision-making capacity and the ability to feed oneself are lost. The average time from diagnosis to death is 7 years, but many people live considerably longer. While advance care planning is important for everyone over the age of 18, it becomes even more important to have conversations with loved ones about their wishes for end-of-life care early and to appoint a health care agent who will be able to make decisions for you when you no longer can. To learn about advance care planning contact Thoughtful Life Conversations or Karen Beckford at KBeckford@azhha.org.


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