The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) recently launched its Alzheimer’s Prevention web site. The new site, with information on brain health, risk factors and lifestyle choices, expands the AFA’s focus on care to include caring for oneself, says Eric Hall, President and Founding CEO.
Why would an organization focused on care launch a prevention effort? If you look at the numbers and where the scientific research is, Eric says, it makes sense. “We discussed this issue with both presidential campaigns,” he says, “and told each of the candidates that if he served two terms, he could expect 2.5 million more Americans to develop Alzheimer’s during his presidency. That’s in addition to the 5.5 million who have it now. We know we don’t have the infrastructure to care for all these people.”
He’s not optimistic about new treatments, either. “Every year I attend meetings, and listen to all the research updates,” he says. “A silver bullet cure doesn’t look attainable, at least not in the near future. Maybe in a few years, we’ll have a combination therapy to offset symptoms. In the meantime, what do we do? I don’t like feeling helpless.”
But it was conversations with caregivers and families, rather than Eric’s personal feelings, that ultimately led the AFA to address prevention. “The Foundation answers questions about resources and local support services available to families daily,” he says, “and we’re glad we can be of help. But in every one of these conversations, family members ask us ‘does this mean I’m going to have Alzheimer’s?’ or “what do I do to prevent Alzheimer’s?’”
“So we sat down and looked at the research,” he says. “We found that while we still aren’t sure what causes Alzheimer’s or how to prevent it, there’s an emerging consensus about things you can do to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and related diseases. Most people have no idea that this is possible.”
To educate people about these proactive steps, the AFA formed a Prevention Advisory Board, published a special prevention edition of care ADvantage (the organization’s magazine for caregivers) this past winter, and developed new literature emphasizing successful aging. The Alzheimer’s Prevention site was launched earlier this month.
Can this kind of education and information actually change people’s behavior? Eric thinks so, at least for the people the AFA and its members serve. “The vast majority of people coming to us already have Alzheimer’s in their families and that changes your life perspective,” he says. “We think their experiences will motivate them to modify their behavior.”