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The days go by faster, my body doesn’t always "rise to the occasion" and my keys – where did I put my keys? Aging certainly beats the alternative, but is certainly not for the weak. Of course, aging equals living longer – a very good thing – but presents many new challenges to each of us. 

One of the greatest worries for baby boomers is the threat of cognitive decline and/or the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease.

As aggravating as it is to have to search for our keys, the real problem is our fear that we are heading down the "slippery slope" of one of the many types of dementia. Thankfully, this is not commonly the case. However, it is occurring at an alarming rate to our parents, family members, friends and neighbors – and it will include a significant number of those of us reading this article.

What are the facts? According to the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org)

• Every 67 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. 

• An estimated 5.2 million Americans had Alzheimer’s in 2014.

• By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's may nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million.

• In 2013, 15.5 million family and friends provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer's and other dementias – care valued at $220.2 billion, which is nearly eight times the total revenue of McDonald's in 2012.

• More than 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers are women.

• The cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to total $214 billion in 2014, increasing to $1.2 trillion (in today’s dollars) by midcentury.

• Nearly one in every three seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

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Know the 10 warning signs for Alzheimer’s and dementia:

• Memory loss that disrupts daily life.

• Challenges in planning or solving problems.

• Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.

• Confusion with time or place.

• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.

• New problems with words in speaking or writing.

• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

• Decreased or poor judgment.

• Withdrawal from work or social activities.

• Changes in mood and personality.

For more information, go to alz.org/10signs or call 1-800-272-3900 and/or speak with your health care provider.

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Steps to prevent Alzheimer's and dementia as we age:

We are very fortunate that there is strong research to show us how to prevent and/or forestall the onset of dementia. These steps are helpful most of the time, but will not be effective for everyone. These include all of the following:

• Increase your physical activity: Amedically approved activity program designed specifically for older adults and your interests is critical to increase blood flow to brain cells and maintain overall wellness.

• Improve your diet and nutrition: A nutritionally dense but calorie-restricted diet is vital to overall health and prevention of all dementias. Annual blood tests to check vitamin levels, electrolytes and cholesterol levels will help you to plan your best diet approach with your physician.

• Prevent head trauma: Serious head trauma is linked to Alzheimer's later in life. Wear a helmet during activities such as biking, skiing, etc. Wear seat belts in motor vehicles. Take steps to prevent falls, a common cause of traumatic brain injury in older adults. A very good resource for fall prevention can be found on the National Council on Aging’s website, titled “Debunking the Myths of Older Adult Falls”

• Limit alcohol use: People who consume large amounts of alcohol may have a higher risk of dementia. Although studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect, abuse of alcohol increases your risk of developing dementia.

• Control your blood pressure: A number of studies show high or low blood pressure may increase your risk of developing dementia.

• Avoid obesity: Being overweight or obese during the middle of your life may increase your risk of developing dementia when you're older. If you are diabetic, be proactive in controlling your blood sugar.

• Cut out smoking: Smoking tobacco may increase your risk of developing dementia and blood vessel (vascular) diseases.

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What is happening in Montana to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and the other dementias?

Despite our best efforts, some of us will experience this devastating disease either directly or indirectly. We must all know how to come together as a community to prevent, diagnose, treat and support the best quality of life of both patients and their caregivers/families. Montana is not yet ready, but we are taking great steps to improve our services and care.

Come and learn more. Whether you are an older adult, a professional caring for older adults, a concerned citizen or a family dealing with Alzheimer's, there is an upcoming conference you will want to attend. This year, the Montana Gerontology Society and the Governor’s Council on Aging are combining their annual conferences into one.

The focus this year is "Insights into Alzheimer’s Disease" and will be held May 12-14 at the Red Lion Colonial Inn in Helena. Registration for both attendees and exhibitors is now available at montanagerontology.org.

Keynote speakers include four national experts with concurrent breakout sessions to follow. Three tracks of presentations will be available as well as a large exhibitor hall, a celebration of Montana’s centenarians at a special luncheon and statewide aging awards. Continuing education will be available for health care professionals. Networking and support will be available for families. Please plan to join us by registering.

The Booming section features a monthly column by a member of the Missoula City-County Health Department or guest in order to assist baby boomer residents to be healthy and resilient. Mindy Renfro is a clinical coordinator for the University of Montana Rural Institute’s MonTECH. She is an invited member of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Expert Fall Prevention panel and works closely with the physical therapy subgroup at a national level. She can be reached at mindy.renfro@umontana.edu.

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