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Wolf Administration Encourages Pennsylvanians to Know Their Risk to Reduce Chance of Developing Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia

06/09/2021

HARRISBURG, PA -- The Pennsylvania Departments of Aging and Health today encouraged all Pennsylvanians to educate themselves on the importance of brain health, and to learn about Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

There are several brain health issues that can affect individuals. Some can be caused by brain damage from a traumatic brain injury, while others can be the result of a genetic issue. Various types of dementia involve memory loss and a decline in intellectual functioning that can get severe enough that it interferes with someone's ability to perform routine tasks. Alzheimer's disease is one of the most serious and most common types of dementia, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in Pennsylvania.

"There are 280,000 people aged 65 and older who are living with Alzheimer's in Pennsylvania, and that number is expected to increase as the aging population continues to grow," Secretary of Aging Robert Torres said. "June, which is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, is an opportunity for all of us to learn the facts and understand the impacts of Alzheimer's and other dementias. Working together, we can create a Pennsylvania that is dementia-friendly and engage our communities to promote a better understanding and awareness of these diseases. We can also provide the right support to those living with Alzheimer's, along with their family and caregivers."

There are a number of risk factors for Alzheimer's. Some cannot be changed, while others can be influenced by a person's lifestyle. Risk factors include:

  • Age – most individuals with the disease are 65 and older. After age 65, the risk of Alzheimer's doubles every five years.
  • Family history – Those with a parent or sibling with Alzheimer's are most likely to develop the disease, and the risk increases if more than one family member has the disease.
  • Genetics – Individuals with Alzheimer's risk genes are more likely to develop the disease.
  • Additional factors – Additional factors are ones that we may have the ability to influence. These include preventing head injuries, having strong heart health, and aging healthy by eating a healthy diet, staying socially active, avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol and exercising both your body and your mind.

There are a number of signs of Alzheimer's disease, ranging from mild to severe cases of the disease. Mild signs of Alzheimer's disease include:

  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment leading to bad decisions
  • Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
  • Repeating questions
  • Mood and personality changes

"It is important for all Pennsylvanians to know the signs of Alzheimer's disease. By knowing the signs, you could help a friend or loved one take action to seek the best treatment available to prevent decline," Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. "Individuals and families who are fighting this disease should know they are not alone – there are supports and resources available."

The Alzheimer's Association Greater Pennsylvania and Delaware Valley Chapters indicate several ways that people can work to maintain their brain health. They include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a heart-healthy diet
  • Getting proper sleep
  • Staying socially and physically active

In 2018, the Department of Aging (PDA) established the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Task Force, which has focused on early detection, diagnosis, and treatment. In November 2020, the task force's annual forum highlighted racial disparities and inequalities in detecting, diagnosing and treating dementia. The task force recently formed working subgroups to address education for consumers and providers on issues such as the impacts on and support for families and caregivers; financial exploitation; physician education on starting conversations and moving forward after initial diagnosis; and how to focus on and engage with underserved communities.

PDA has been collaborating with the Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley and Greater Pennsylvania Chapters on initiatives that include conducting community forums and needs assessments in rural communities; providing education and outreach to health systems, public health centers and clinicians aimed at enhancing dementia care; and developing new online training for facility-based staff. As part of its State Plan on Aging, the department is also partnering with the two chapters to train the network of Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) care managers and person-center counselors to help them effectively interact and work with individuals living with Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias.

More information on Alzheimer's and brain health, including online training, can be found at www.alz.org. The Department of Health also provides additional information at www.health.pa.gov.

Learn more about the various programs offered by the PDA at www.aging.pa.gov/.  

 

MEDIA CONTACTS: Jack Eilber, Aging: agingcomms@pa.gov

                                Barry Ciccocioppo, Health: ra-dhpressoffice@pa.gov

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