It is growing colder outside and holiday celebrations are underway. This time of year is one I look forward to each year. People take time to show more love and reflect on what is really precious in life. It is something I hope all of us will do more often. This week, I want to bring an illness to light that makes times so dark for those under its pervasive shadow. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, around 5.7 million Americans of all ages are currently living with Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), including an estimated 5.5 million people age 65 and older and 200,000 people under age 65 who have younger-onset AD. With such significant figures, it is important to be informed of this disease.

AD is very different from typical aging symptoms. Occasional forgetting of an appointment, misplacing items or making a poor decision is normal age-related phenomenon. AD is more chronic and severe. The following are some symptoms to be aware of:

• Inability to manage finances

• Social isolation

• Difficulties in language abilities

• Problems with judging distance or understanding images

• Trouble completing routine tasks

• Disoriented with time or location

It is important to note that AD symptoms can be similar to other forms of dementia or neurological disorders. If you suspect AD in a loved one, schedule a visit with a psychiatric or neurological professional as soon as possible to receive an accurate diagnosis. Genetics, cardiovascular health and other factors are known to play a role in AD onset. There is not a known, FDA approved treatment to cure AD or slow its progression. However, if caught early, measures can be taken to help with symptoms management as there are several pharmaceuticals available. Some non-pharmaceutical actions include playing familiar music, which can trigger memories and other forms of memory skills training have been shown to also help manage symptoms. There are some preventative measures you can take. Staying engaged in social activities and keeping your brain active through education or other stimulation have been shown to reduce AD risk.

AD takes a significant toll on caretakers as well. Individuals living with AD need intensive treatment and can at times experience frustration and act aggressively. Caretakers should connect with healthcare resources and share responsibility. Getting burned out or overwhelmed will not do you or your loved one living with AD any good. I recognize it is a rather saddening topic to talk about during the holiday season, but it is a sad reality for millions of fellow Americans. Take time to look after and appreciate your loved ones and give help to those living with AD and their care providers.

For more information on AD, visit www.alz.org/nc. For local mental health resources, visit www.mccslejeune-newriver.com/counseling.

Editor’s note: “Raising Healthy Minds” is a weekly column that sheds light on mental health topics. DeWitt holds a B.S. degree in Psychology from Regent University. Facts not attributed are the opinions of the writer.