by Marilyn Sherrill, RN, MBA
Vizient Performance Improvement Program Director

Today marks the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. While you might be tempted to mark the beginning of summer with a cookout or dip in the pool, consider joining the thousands from across the world who will use the longest day to fight the darkness of Alzheimer's Disease through an activity of their choice.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and provides an opportunity for healthcare professionals to shine a light on Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is one cause of dementia. Degenerative brain disease is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time. 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that Alzheimer’s is characterized by the presence of two signature brain lesions: plaque deposits between nerve cells composed of fragments of the amyloid-beta protein and neurofibrillary tangles of aggregated tau proteins in the interior of cells. Alzheimer’s is the most common diagnosis for patients with dementia and the sixth leading cause of death for Americans.

We are learning much more about this disease. While we typically associate dementia and Alzheimer’s with aging, there are approximately 200,000 Americans under 65 who have been diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s although the actual prevalence is unknown.

Here are some additional facts listed on the CDC website:

  • In 2020, as many as 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Younger people may get Alzheimer’s disease, but it is less common.
  • The number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.
  • This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.
  • Symptoms of the disease can first appear after age 60, and the risk increases with age. 

Many of us have trouble remembering things from time to time, but it’s when we start having memory issues that affect our daily lives that we should consider investigating whether there are more serious issues including these Ten Warning Signs.

As healthcare professionals, we strive to educate our patients, as well as practice good health habits ourselves. We try to eat a balanced diet, exercise and get proper rest. These things are good for our entire bodies, including our brains. But, are there other things we can do specifically for brain health? Of course, the answer is yes! We know that it is important to stay mentally and socially active. Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute suggests 7 ways to protect your brain - and your thinking power.

Most likely you have cared for, or have personally known, someone who has suffered from dementia, Alzheimer’s, stroke, mental illness or addiction. It is very difficult to watch and, deep down if we are honest, we worry about our brain health.

Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month is a time for us to remember those suffering from all brain diseases or disorders, as well as those who care for them. June is a month full of beautiful summertime sights, smells and sounds. Our brain is the vital organ that allows us to experience these joys. May June always remind us to keep those with Alzheimer’s and other brain-altering illnesses in our thoughts. Get started today, take good care of yourself and shine a light on the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Additional resources for health professionals are available on the NIH website. Information is available online about the Longest Day and Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.

Alzheimer’s and dementia aren’t the only issues impacting our brain health. Vizient’s Performance Improvement Collaboratives have focused on other topics such as stroke, behavioral health and opioid stewardship projects.

About the author: Marilyn Sherrill is a Performance Improvement (PI) program director on the Vizient PI Collaboratives Program where she facilitates the team in PI projects and benchmarking studies. Sherrill previously served as a knowledge transfer director for the PI Collaboratives Program. Before this, Sherrill was a senior consultant on the Vizient Advisory Services team. Sherrill is an RN with her MBA.

Published: June 21, 2022