"I really enjoy it and have learned some wonderful lessons from many of them," McKenna said. "People who have Alzheimer's disease and their families are on a journey, and those special moments will be cherished forever. I encourage people to enjoy the moment and to listen to their heart when helping them cope with the disease."
AD is the fourth leading cause of death in adults, after heart disease, cancer and strokes. Men and women are affected almost equally with this disease.
AD was first described by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. Since then, researchers have developed a deeper understanding of the changes in the brain and behavioral changes that characterize the disease. Identified risk factors are age and family history. Most people diagnosed with AD are older than age 65; however, AD can occur in people in their 40s and 50s.
The causes of AD are not known and are currently receiving intensive scientific investigation. Suspected causes include diseased genes or a genetic predisposition, abnormal protein build-up in the brain and environmental toxins. Scientists are applying the newest knowledge and research techniques to find the causes, treatments and cures for AD.
According to McKenna, symptoms of AD can include gradual memory loss, decline in the ability to perform routine tasks, disorientation, difficulty in learning, loss of language skills, impairment of judgment and planning and personality changes. The rate of progression varies from person to person and the time from the onset of symptoms until death averages at 8 years, but can range from 3 to 20 years. Eventually persons with AD become totally incapable of caring for themselves.