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Postcard from Sacramento: Alzheimer's 'looks like me, it looks like you'

Ana B. Ibarra, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

"Alzheimer's looks like me, it looks like you, it looks like everyone," the Danville, Calif., resident said.

She acknowledged some hard times. She cries and becomes frustrated easily. She no longer drives at night, and during the day she only goes to places she knows, because navigation apps are too confusing, she said.

Between visits to the neurologist and numerous cognitive tests, it took about two years for Montana to get a proper diagnosis. "It was so stressful waiting to hear the diagnosis, (but) as hard as it was to hear the words, I was grateful to have an answer," she said.

A day afterward, she decided to join the advocacy team at the Alzheimer's Association and share her story -- while she still could.

"I've never been more powerful than now," Montana said. Inspired by the #MeToo movement that encourages women to speak out about sexual harassment, Montana wants to start a social media movement with the hashtag #IHaveAlz, to help eliminate the shame that sometimes comes with the disease, she said.

Once the event started, panelist Kaci Fairchild, a psychologist and professor at Stanford University, told the audience of about 50 about the importance of exercise -- for the body and the brain. She also urged everyone to become familiar with the 10 early warning signs of Alzheimer's, which include poor judgment, personality changes and withdrawal from social activities.

 

Knowing these symptoms and getting an early diagnosis can buy families some time, Fairchild said.

Panel moderator Liz Hernandez, a former correspondent for NBC's "Access Hollywood," said that had she recognized the signs of Alzheimer's sooner in her mom, she could have received care and resources earlier. Hernandez urged the mixed-age audience to have conversations with their loved ones about the type of care they would want if they were to be diagnosed.

"These conversations are heartbreaking but they have to be had," Hernandez said.

In Latino culture, for example, "it is really hard to talk about money, but we have to ask our parents if they've set aside money for care because it is very expensive," she said.

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