The CDC estimates that in 2020, 5.8 million Americans over age 65 had Alzheimer’s disease. This number is projected to nearly triple by 2060. November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and as the prevalence of the disease—the most common type of dementia—grows, so does the need for information and resources that support older adults’ brain health. By educating themselves on the importance of memory care, whether through preventive screenings or other care offerings, older adults can be better equipped to care for their brains and mitigate cognitive decline.
Though memory loss is a well-recognized symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, warning signs can include a variety of cognitive challenges. For example, according to the National Institute on Aging, early signs of Alzheimer’s may involve repeating questions or forgetting something you just learned, not knowing the date or your location and taking more time or having difficulty completing normal daily tasks.
Though these warning signs can vary or appear gradually, it’s important to talk with your doctor as soon as these symptoms emerge.
Though researchers have not identified a specific cause of Alzheimer’s, there are steps and lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of the disease, identify signs of Alzheimer’s early and manage the progression of symptoms. As with other parts of the body, we must consider three types of prevention with our brain health:
1. Primary Prevention (preventing disease): Though there’s no guaranteed way to prevent Alzheimer’s from manifesting in the first place, research shows that maintaining a healthy diet, regularly exercising, controlling blood pressure, managing cholesterol levels and participating in mental and social activities as you age can help lower your chances of getting the disease.
2. Secondary Prevention (detecting disease): For those at risk, there are many benefits to early detection. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, early detection provides you with a better chance of benefiting from treatment and an opportunity to preserve cognitive function through lifestyle changes.
If you or a loved one is experiencing cognitive or memory challenges, it might be a good time to schedule an appointment with a doctor.
Ultimately, the greatest reward early detection can afford you is the gift of time—time to plan ahead and time to enjoy with your loved ones.
3. Tertiary Prevention (treating disease): Once diagnosed, there are ways you can manage care to help slow Alzheimer’s disease progression, from beginning medication to engaging in daily exercise or social activity.
Depending on what stage of the disease you or your loved one might be in, your needs will change. Each family’s situation is unique and will require a different approach to care. Knowing what care offerings are available and most effective is crucial to supporting yourself or your loved ones.
Some of the most common types of care are:
Another way to prioritize your or a loved one’s long-term brain health is to take the time to understand what coverage options exist and how they can help. For example, did you know that Medicare beneficiaries can take a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) as part of an annual wellness visit (which is paid for by Medicare) that asks questions about the beneficiary’s health and cognitive function and can be used to start the diagnostic process? Medicare also covers care planning services for people recently diagnosed with cognitive impairment that allows individuals and their caregivers to learn about existing medical and non-medical treatments.
Other coverage options include Medicare Advantage (MA) plans that allow Medicare beneficiaries to choose from different managed care options to build a personalized plan based on cost and convenience. MA plans also include a range of supplemental benefits, such as memory fitness – a benefit offered on select Aetna 2023 MA plans. Aetna’s memory fitness benefit, which can be accessed as a web-based app, gives members access to dozens of brain exercises that will help keep their brains active and promote good brain health as they age.
Though there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, clinicians in Aetna’s network can help you create a care plan that makes sense for you and your loved ones. The Alzheimer’s Association and Medicare.gov are great places to start discovering what resources and information are available to you. Figuring out what options work best for your situation can help reduce long-term stress and create mental, social and emotional benefits for individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.
About the Contributors:
Christopher Ciano is President of Aetna Medicare. As a former caregiver for his parents, Christopher brings a unique perspective to the Medicare conversation. He oversees operations and business strategy for Aetna’s robust portfolio of Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare prescription drug plans and Medicare Supplement plans. An advocate for the aging population, Christopher is passionate about simplifying health care and helping Aetna’s more than 10.7 million Medicare members nationwide achieve their best health.
Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, is Senior Vice President and Aetna Chief Medical Officer at CVS Health. Kyu leads Aetna Medical Affairs, a 1,300-colleague team of medical doctors and clinicians focused on Aetna’s integration and delivery of clinical and population health solutions. He is passionate and grateful to work for a health care innovation company with a simple and clear purpose: “to help people on their path to better health, from the community to the home to the palm of their hand.” Kyu is also the co-chair of the Alzheimer’s Association Innovation Roundtable.