still aliceAll eyes were on Hollywood for the Academy Awards and one film is shining a spotlight on an important issue impacting hundreds of thousands of people here in the U.S.

Julianne Moore took top honors for Best Actress for her role in “Still Alice,” a 2014 film, in which she plays Alice, a Columbia linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In her Best Actress acceptance speech, Julianne expressed gratitude that her film “Still Alice” could raise awareness about early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Alice first notices that she is getting lost on her regular runs and begins to trip up on words. Alice, concerned and afraid for her future and how that will affect those around her, begins to try memorizing random words that she writes and then hides on a blackboard, as well as setting up important personal questions on her phone that she tasks herself with answering every morning. As the film progresses, you witness her struggle with Alzheimer’s and how it impacts her loved ones.

When people think of these conditions, they tend to think of the elderly. But as “Still Alice” demonstrates, many people develop early on-set in their 40s and 50s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in the U.S. it is estimated approximate 200,000 have early on-set.  Since health care providers generally don’t look for Alzheimer’s disease in younger people, getting an accurate diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s can be a long and frustrating process.

Today, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and it is projected by 2050 to reach epic proportions.
Today, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and it is projected by 2050 to reach epic proportions.

With the graying of America and 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, chances are we have or will cross paths with someone who is diagnosed with a disease that has dementia symptoms.  According to the Alzheimer Association, dementia is not a specific disease but an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.  This decline in memory is not reversible, will progress and cannot be fixed. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia cases. Today, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and it is projected by 2050 to reach epic proportions.  This is how someone described living with Alzheimer’s disease: “imagine your life as a chalkboard full of events, thoughts, feelings etc. and then take an eraser to the chalkboard and start erasing…..words come off the chalk board randomly and gradually, leaving less and less”.  This is a metaphor of what Alzheimer does to the brain, erasing bit by bit…. all of what made you “you”.

Nationally, the incidence of folks living with dementia in long term care communities is about 70%.  At Liberty senior communities, our incidence aligns with the national average. As we work with residents in the later stages of dementia, we now understand that the most important treatment is to focus on quality of life by highlighting strengths and not weaknesses.  We strive for a personalized approach for each resident; a broad term that means we support and prioritize their capabilities, tasks are never more important than the people.  For our residents, it is encouraging them to make the decisions they are able to make and from that comes a sense of independence and freedom in their everyday life, for example “would you like to wear the blue shirt or the red” “would you like to have lunch in the dining room or in your room”….these decisions give our residents control in their everyday life, a life that stresses the cornerstones of comfort, social interaction, “fun” and meaningful relationships…. the things that matter most to all of us in life.

The Alzheimer’s Association website has a wealth of information about dementia. It is also a valuable resource for support and resources for caregivers of individuals with dementia.

The movie “Still Alice” has brought to the forefront, and hopefully to a national conversation, the increasing incidence of individuals living with cognitive impairment.

For more information about dementia click here.

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