Friday, June 15, 2018

A Proactive Approach Can Ease Alzheimer's Burden

By Troy Alexander
Director, TMA Public Affairs

This will be my first Father’s Day without my dad, who passed away October 16, 2017. A few weeks prior I went for a walk with my 81-year-old father around the pond near his home in Pearland. It was not something I had a chance to do often in the last few years, especially just the two of us. I knew it was a precious time because my father was in the late stages of lung cancer and dementia with Alzheimer’s disease. As we walked, I advanced ahead of him around a corner. I heard him raise his voice, “Hey, Troy – wait up.” And of course I did and we finished our walk together.

In the past few years as my dad’s Alzheimer’s worsened, I noticed he could have conversations with me, but he never addressed me by my name. That moment during the walk when he called my name — it mattered. I felt like it had been years since I’d heard my own father say my name. There’s just something special about hearing a father address his son by the name he gave him.   

The author's father on his 80th birthday celebration (left), and playing baseball with his sons (right).


Alzheimer’s attack on a person’s memories makes stories of sons like me all too common. My father’s condition was detected around two and a half years before his death. Looking back now, I can see instances where the disease was noticeable before we knew a diagnosis. I know many families endure many more years on average with the disease.

Early detection matters for families. Here’s some reasons why:
  1. Science continues to rapidly advance treatment of this disease. Early detection affords the opportunity to access treatments that may alleviate symptoms. 
  2. It influences decision-making about how you spend your time. I am so thankful that right after his diagnosis we planned a family road trip with my parents to Colorado. I treated it as a memory trip with my kids. I also remembered many road trips my dad had taken us on when I was a boy. I even created special song playlists from those early days of music I could recall my dad liked. We went back to a place he loved in the mountains and even travelled Route 66 for part of the trip.  
  3. Early detection can help families deal with other disease conditions the family might face. When my dad’s cancer appeared about one year later, the realities of his Alzheimer’s impacted our choice of treatment for him. 
  4. Earlier detection helps to facilitate planning. When my dad’s diagnosis occurred he was still driving and very lucid in many ways. He was able to make decisions on his vehicle and ensure other financial and advanced directives were taken care of the way he wanted. 
  5. Early intervention provided us the ability to alter lifestyle changes for him that permitted my parents to remain in their home and in their daily life. 
June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Here are some things you can do for your dad (and mom) this year:
  • Ensure your loved ones have a primary medical home, like a family doctor, to coordinate their care. 
  • At the first sign of possible symptoms, seek neurological testing to establish a baseline for future comparison should disease manifest.
  • Encourage regular exercise and a balanced diet, as evidence points strongly to the link of obesity and tobacco with the disease.

For more ideas and information, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website

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