The number of people who have Alzheimer’s disease is growing. Families and congregations who are well-informed about Alzheimer’s disease are better prepared to recognize and respond to someone who has the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, is the most common form of dementia. The disease was first described in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers the following statistical data on the disease:

  • Approximately 4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • 14 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050 unless a cure is found.
  • One in 10 people over 65, and nearly half of those over 85, have Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease can occur in people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
  • A person with Alzheimer’s disease will live an average of 80 years, and as many as 20 years or more from the onset of symptoms.
  • Depression is found in 20 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease, and in up to 50 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Although there is no single test to identify Alzheimer’s, a probable diagnosis may be made after a comprehensive evaluation that includes a complete health history, physical and neurological examination, mental status assessment, and an observation of symptoms and behavior.

At the present time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Progress of the disease cannot be stopped or reversed. However, intervention strategies and appropriate medication may be effective in lessening symptoms, and hopefully allowing for continued participation in many activities.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease may not be identified based on appearance alone. People with Alzheimer’s may maintain their social skills or behave normally in familiar settings. Many individuals with Alzheimer’s are conversant, articulate and physically fit. Some may even hide or deny their symptoms. Symptoms and behaviors vary because the disease progresses at different rates in each individual.

Usually a person with Alzheimer’s disease displays some of the following symptoms:

  • Poor or decreased judgment
  • Frequent, short-term memory loss
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems with language
  • Disorientation as to time and place
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Problems misplacing things
  • Wandering
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Loss of initiative

At some point, Alzheimer’s will affect every family and every congregation. Learn all that you can about the disease now, so that your response will be informed and caring.

Barry Howard is senior minister of First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky.

Visit the Alzheimer’s Association at

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