In the United States alone, it’s estimated that five and a half million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Imagine that already large number multiplied the world over. How many millions would that make? As of 2016, the estimate was upwards of 44 million.

Although this is a common disease, there’s sadly very little understanding as to what it is, what it does, who it affects and what can be done to help those who live with it. In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, which is this month, we’ll discuss all of those things.

What Exactly is Alzheimer’s?

This irreversible disease is caused by brain tissue breaking down over time. The result is progressive mental deterioration. In other words, senility or the loss of memory and thinking skills over time.

What Are the Effects?

Initially, short-term memory is often the first thing to be compromised. A person may remember things from years ago, yet not be able to recall what they did just yesterday. Then as the disease progresses, more severe symptoms present themselves. These include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Mental confusion, fog or frustration
  • Disorientation and wandering
  • Difficulty communicating thoughts
  • Unpredictable mood swings or outbursts
  • Difficulty carrying out normal activities and functions such as eating or walking

Are There Risk Factors?

It’s estimated that one in nine Americans over age 65 develop Alzheimer’s disease. What factors, then, decide who becomes part of which category?  As mentioned, age does play a role. The disease most commonly affects individuals 65 and older.

Additionally, a family history can increase the risk. The odds are even higher if there is more than one person in an individual’s family who has had Alzheimer’s. Genetics can play a big role in whether a person is at risk at all and in whether they will actually ever develop the disease.

In addition to age, family history and genetics, sex is also a determining factor. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 2 out of 3 who have been diagnosed are women. For some reason, females have a higher chance than men.

Even though they have been able to identify some of these factors, doctors can’t say for sure why some people escape the grasp of this disease and others don’t. They suspect several things including environmental factors, immune system glitches and even abnormal protein deposits in the brain. They continue to research in hopes of finally identifying the culprit.

How Can You Help Individuals With Alzheimer’s?

As previously mentioned, this disease is currently irreversible. While there are treatments for the symptoms, the disease itself cannot be stopped. It’s progressive and slowly robs its sufferers of their mental and even physical capabilities.

That being said, the greatest thing you can do for someone with Alzheimer’s is show support. Be patient, kind and understanding in your dealings with them. And, even better, encourage them to be patient and kind to themselves. It’s no doubt frustrating to experience the changes that a person with this disease does, but by being supportive you can make things a little easier for them.

Additionally, you can “go purple” to show your support. On Wednesday, June 21, everyone is encouraged to wear purple to raise awareness. People are also encouraged to post and share facts about this vicious disease at work, school, on social media and elsewhere. You can even raise money for the fight against this disease by selling Casual for the Cause stickers.

As you can see, there’s plenty that you can do to raise awareness and promote understanding of Alzheimer’s. So join the millions who will be doing just that in June!