Movie shines light on Alzheimer’s

Movie shines light on Alzheimer’s

Julianne Moore recently won an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role for her portrayal of a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in the movie “Still Alice.” The win has drawn increasing attention to the movie, as well as, a greater awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia.

In fact, people are contacting the Alzheimer’s Association, Great Illinois Chapter with questions after watching the movie.

“We’ve seen an uptick in interest. The movie has been a very good thing for raising awareness,” says Nancy Rainwater, vice president of communications for the chapter. “Traditionally, there’s a lot of stigma attached to Alzheimer’s, so anytime something like this can open the conversation, that’s a good thing.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a person’s memory often changes as he/she grows older, but memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging. It’s not uncommon for people to wonder if their forgetfulness is related to age or if it’s the first signs of Alzheimer’s.

To help, the Alzheimer’s Association created a list of warning signs. For example, if you’re having difficulty completing a familiar task — such as driving to a location you’ve visited routinely or remembering the rules of a favorite game — that may be a warning sign. Whereas occasionally needing help to set a microwave oven or making an error when balancing your checkbook probably is not something to worry about.

“If you forget your keys, that’s normal. If you forget what your keys are for, that may be a warning sign,” Rainwater said.

Peg Schuetz, manager of the Adult Day Center at Advocate Condell Medical Center echoed those sentiments.

“It’s normal to lose your keys or to forget the name of a band from years ago,” says Schuetz, a licensed clinical professional counselor.“If you’re acknowledging you have had a brain freeze, that’s a good sign. In my experience, people who really do have Alzheimer’s usually think nothing is wrong with them.”

Schuetz says that if someone is concerned about a loved one’s behavior it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment for an evaluation with a physician. The problem might not be related to dementia at all, but if it is, a diagnosis is critical.

“You have to know what you’re facing,” says Schuetz, who speaks from experience. In 1991 her 66-year-old mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease before passing away in 1998.

Until her mother was diagnosed, Schuetz recalls a lot of frustration over her mom’s behaviors, including repeating herself and misplacing things. After the diagnosis, Schuetz had a better understanding of the situation.

“You know what to expect and what they are and are not going to be able to do,” she says. “Focus on what your loved one can do, and try to be two or three steps ahead in knowing what to expect.”

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is a progressive disease, with symptoms such as memory loss gradually growing worse over years.

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Kathleen Troher
Kathleen Troher

Kathleen Troher, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Good Sheperd Hospital in Barrington. She has more than 20 years of journalism experience, with her primary focus in the newspaper and magazine industry. Kathleen graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, earning her degree in journalism with an emphasis on science writing and broadcasting. She loves to travel with her husband, Ross. They share their home with a sweet Samoyed named Maggie.