Could it be Alzheimer’s?


Photo: Kealohakuʻualohakuʻupokiʻi Balaz

By Dr. Kealohakuʻualohakuʻupokiʻi Balaz

Alzheimer’s disease is a public health crisis.

There are over 29,000 people currently living with the disease in Hawaiʻi, but this number is expected to rise to 35,000 by 2025. One in three kūpuna die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. It is a degenerative brain disease caused by complex changes in the brain and these changes lead to symptoms that gradually worsen over time.

One of the most common early signs is memory impairment or the ability to learn new information.

As the disease advances behavior changes, confusion, and disorientation may become apparent. Age is the greatest risk factor. Other risk factors include lifestyle, genetics, and heart-head connections which include heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Alzheimer’s disease among Native Hawaiians is extremely understudied but all of the aforementioned chronic diseases are prominent in the Native Hawaiian population. These risk factors are modifiable and could lead to a decrease in dementia in the Native Hawaiian population.

Early detection matters to have the best outcomes, qualify of life, and maintain independence longer. This is not just for those living with the disease but also for the 51,000 caregivers who are providing an estimated $81 million in unpaid care across the state. Early detection can also mean the prevention or delay of deterioration.

Alzheimer’s caregivers suffer higher rates of stress as they navigate through the emotional, physical, and finical challenges while providing personal care. November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month and the Alzheimer’s Association–Hawaiʻi is here to help.

We offer education programs, support groups, and an array of other services to support both individuals living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, including a 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900. If you notice any of the 10 warning signs listed below in yourself or someone you know, please don’t ignore them. Have a conversation with your doctor or nurse practitioner today.

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

Visit for more information about the 10 Warning Signs, or call 808.591.2771.

Dr. Kealohakuʻualohakuʻupokiʻi Balaz is the medical director at Lunalilo Home and chair of the Alzheimer’s Association Hawaiʻi Leadership Board.