Since her husband was diagnosed with the Alzheimer's disease four years ago, Joan Benke said there's always more to learn about it.
"He has some good days and some bad days, but its hard to tell when those are going to be," Benke said. "I came here today to find some more ways I can help."
The first of a three-part health series titled "Know the signs: Early detection matters" was sponsored Tuesday by SSM Health, the Greater Missouri chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and the YMCA.
"Early detection is essential, we are finding that people are going years noticing symptoms — knowing that something is wrong — but are not going to the doctor," said Amanda de la Mater, program and education specialist at the Alzheimer's Association. "Educating people about this disease is the first step to getting people to the doctor; eliminating a little bit of fear surrounding the disease and other related dementia."
Throughout the presentation, Mater highlighted myths about common misconceptions relating to the progressive brain disease. For example, many people may have heard having a touch of dementia is a normal part of aging, or a person has any form of memory loss means they have Alzheimer's or dementia — she emphasized those statements were indeed myths.
Mater also highlighted the fact Alzheimer's and dementia are not the same thing.
She defined dementia as a general term used to describe a decline in cognitive function, while Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia.
"(Alzheimer's) is a pretty big diagnosis, so it's understandable if doctors are giving an official diagnosis later than a patient's initial visit with them," Mater said.
To reinforce the importance of a medical diagnosis, Mater also noted there are other kinds dementia — including vascular or frontotemporal lobar dementia — which are treated differently.
Risk factors for Alzheimer's include age, genetics and not maintaining overall brain and body health. However, none of them alone are telling signs for whether or not a person is more prone for the disease.
She explained there could be multiple reasons for memory loss, including vitamin deficiencies, other life-threatening problems, excessive use of alcohol and side effects to medicine.
For most audience members, the biggest takeaway were the 10 signs Mater mentioned when outlining why early diagnosis in important.
The signs include: a change in mood or personality, withdrawal from work or social activities, decreased or poor judgment, misplacing things and losing the ability to trace their steps, problems with words in speaking or writing, trouble understanding visual spatial relationships, confusion with time or place, difficulty completing familiar tasks, challenges in planning or problem-solving and memory changes that disrupt daily life.
No matter how grim the diagnosis, Mater reassures patients and their families there is joy after diagnosis.
"Once you or a family member has been diagnosed please come to us — the Alzheimer's Association — so we can help direct you to resources," she said. "A lot of people are scared of being diagnosed with this, but the more we talk about it the more people realize they are not alone."
Resources are available for patients and caregivers 24/7 online at alz.org/10 signs or by calling the Alzheimer's Association hotline, 800-272-3900.
Beverly Stafford, director at St. Mary's Foundation, also mentioned PET brain scan technology offered through a partnership between St. Mary's and Jefferson City Medical Group.
"Our goal is to connect people to the resources available and identify ways to make those resources more accessible to our community," she said. "Be on the look out for the next two parts of this series happening next month and in October."
Those interested can register for part two of the health series titled "The Basics" at 5:30 p.m. Sept 14. Part three will take place at 2 p.m. Oct. 17. Both series will be hosted at Knowles YMCA, 424 Stadium Drive.
To register, call 1-844-776-9355.