Can Social Media Help Alzheimer’s?

Social media means many things to many people. Racking up a ton of friends on Facebook isn’t going to help a person suffering from Alzheimer’s. But then, racking up huge number of friends on Facebook isn’t really going to help anyone, unless they like the numbers for their ego.

Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, and research is going on daily into preventing, slowing down and curing it. While the research continues searching for a definitive treatment, there are some measures for slowing the process a little.

One writer put it like this:

“Could you imagine if a weekly Skype call with your grandparents could prolong their memory for six months, or a year, or ten years? What if exchanging five-second snapchats with your best friend every day were proven to decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s by 5%?”

What is Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that starts slowly and worsens progressively over time. As yet, there is no cure and the exact cause has not yet been uncovered. Many theories abound as to what might cause it, but at the writing of this, they are working theories only, with nothing definitive. Everything from gum disease, to old age and to not actively using your brain as you age.

Alzheimer myths, and the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett

For a while it was believed those who were creative, intelligent, and who were constantly using their brains would not get Alzheimer’s: or at least their chances would be minimal. This has proven to be a myth. Staying physically and mentally active can help to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s but it can neither stop it nor prevent it.

An example of this would be the British novelist Sir Terry Pratchett. Pratchett was knighted by the queen for his services to literature—he spent the better part of forty years writing some of the most entertaining, witty satirical fantasy novels you will ever read.

He was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy or PCA (Benson’s syndrome), an atypical form of Alzheimer’s in 2007. Here was one the greatest modern writers of fantasy and even he, with all his brilliance and intelligence ad wit, died 8 years after he was diagnosed. In that time, he managed to write 9 best sellers, and write 3 documentaries. He called his disease the embuggerance: refusing to let the stigma of Alzheimer’s claim him.

You see, Pratchett knew his diagnosis was a death sentence: his diagnosis meant that his chances of reaching 70 were slim to none. So, instead of succumbing to defeat, Pratchett wrote about Alzheimer’s and went on British TV to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s. And he wasn’t just trying to find a cure, although he did want future generations to have that option.

He campaigned for more social awareness—for people to take better care of Alzheimer’s sufferers and to understand what it was to suddenly lose your hold, to go from being intelligent and articulate and watch it slowly

slip through your fingers. And for Pratchett he knew it was happening, he lived it fully cognizant of what was happening.

Sir Terry Pratchett wrote constantly and when the embuggerance took away his ability to write, he had a computer program installed to dictate what he said. Because that’s what posterior cortical atrophy does, it slowly disrupts complex visual procession (you know you’re holding a fork, but you’re not sure what it is or what you’re doing with it). He stayed active right up until he couldn’t. Which may sound silly, but the point is he stayed active and possibly gave himself a few more years. They may not have been particularly fun years for him, but he gave his family—and his loyal readers—more years of his shining self. Not to mention the attention he brought to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Pratchett leveraged his celebrity status to get in front of many people as possible and let the world know. He stayed active right up to the end, and showed Alzheimer’s sufferers and their carers that there is plenty of life after diagnosis. But it is up to both the person who suffers from Alzheimer’s and those around them to help them stay active both physically and mentally.

That’s the point of mentioning Sir Terry Pratchett. His collection of non-fiction “A Slip of the Keyboard” contains most of his writings on the subject of Alzheimer’s and is definitely worth reading if you would like to know more information on the subject.

There is one thing about Alzheimer’s that researchers can agree on

One thing everyone does agree on (at the writing of this book) is this: Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. However, the greatest risk factor of getting Alzheimer’s is increasing age. Which is based on the fact that most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 or older. Although, there are around 200,000 people in the U.S. alone who have what is known as early onset Alzheimer’s.

Life expectancy for someone with Alzheimer’s depends on two factors: their age, and when they are diagnosed. Typically, a person with Alzheimer’s—once symptoms are apparent to others—has an average life expectancy of eight years.

Treatments for Alzheimer’s

While there is no cure, yet, there are treatments currently available which can temporarily slow the worsening of memory loss symptoms as well as improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

Around the world, researchers and doctors are working on the problem trying to find a cure to this horrible disease, delay its onset and prevent it from developing.



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