November Awareness Campaigns: Diabetes – Alzheimer’s – COPD

By: Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT

In addition to the obvious holiday which is celebrated in November, Thanksgiving, there are also a number of healthcare related observances.  These include National Diabetes Awareness Month, National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National COPD Awareness Month.   These all allow for an excellent excuse to help educate your rehab therapy patients during November.  

Diabetes Awareness Month

According to a study conducted in 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34.2 million Americans or 10.5% of the U.S population has diabetes.  In addition, and possibly even more concerning, 88 million or 34.5% of Americans 18 years and older have prediabetes.  If steps are not taken by these individuals, their prediabetes could progress to diabetes.

This is where rehab therapists come into play.  By educating our patients on the importance of staying active, we can help them reduce the risk of their prediabetes turning into diabetes.  In addition, we can help those who already have diabetes limit complications that come from diabetes, like kidney disease and vision loss.  During the month of November you could hang posters, post information on your social media pages or incorporate information into your newsletter.  The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders offers a free toolkit which includes digital and print resources.  

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

It was back in November of 1983 when then President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Awareness month.  The goal was to make people aware of the disease and just how many people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease.  Back in 1983 there were fewer than 2 million Americans with Alzheimer’s.  Today that number has grown to 6.2 million and is expected to soar to 12.7 million by 2050.  Memory loss is not the only consequence of Alzheimer’s, it can also be the primary cause of death.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, between 2000 and 2019 the number of deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease rose by 145.2%.

To recognize Alzheimer’s Awareness Month you could post the warning signs of Alzheimer’s in your clinic, as well as familiarize yourself with these signs.  These can be found on  “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s”.   As a healthcare provider you may be able to recognize some of the early symptoms in your patients and encourage them to get checked.  In addition, should you have patients already diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, take time to recognize their caregivers.  Caring for someone with these conditions can be extremely stressful; emotionally, physically and financially.  Research support groups in your area and offer that information to the caregivers.

COPD Awareness Month

November has also been designated as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Awareness Month.  COPD encompasses Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis.  Emphysema is categorized as damage to the lung’s air sacs and Chronic Bronchitis refers to chronic inflammation of the passage that brings air into the lungs called bronchi.  According to Johns Hopkins, 13.1 million adults in the U.S have been diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million have COPD but have not yet been diagnosed.  As you can see, this disease affects a significant number of people in the U.S alone.  

The chief cause of COPD is smoking.  Therefore, one of the most significant impacts you can make is to encourage your patients to stop smoking.  A person who has already been diagnosed with COPD and then stops smoking will usually see a reduction in the progression of the disease.  Encourage your at risk patients to get checked.  Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the patient’s quality of life.  The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has videos, fact sheets and social media resources available on their website for patients and healthcare professionals.

November is a busy month in regards to awareness campaigns related to healthcare topics.  As rehab therapists, all of these diseases being recognized can affect our patient population.  By acknowledging the significance of these diseases and helping to educate your patients on prevention, risks and treatments, you can play a role in minimizing the impact of these diseases on your patient’s quality of life.