Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise and will continue to strike increasing numbers as more of us live longer, since it is a disease that is more prevalent with age.
This degenerative, debilitating and irreversible disease is rising, not only in the United States but also across the world.
Due to the growing numbers of people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, the cost of healthcare, the burden on family caregivers and the fact that there is currently no treatment or cure for the disease, our world leaders have defined it as a crisis. They have made a commitment to fighting this disease by preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.
The United States has created a National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s and has committed to funding research to find a cause, treatment and cure.
Senior Care Corner is passionate about the fight for a cure to end Alzheimer’s. We have personally been affected and have supported many family caregivers and persons with dementia for many years. We follow the research advances closely and bring you information about the latest developments.
And we will continue to do so…
What’s Known About Alzheimer’s Disease
The latest research has been informative about numerous aspects of dementia. However, it feels like every step forward leads to two steps backward for many of us as, at least according to researchers, the cure could be more than ten years away.
We know more than we did even five years ago about dementia. Here’s what we know today:
- The current prevalence of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the US is estimated to be 5.1 million people and 36 million people worldwide. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the US.
- Someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s disease every 67 seconds. More research has shown that there is a multifactorial cause of prevalence that occurs over a long period of time, damaging the brain, and which includes genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors leading to the development of the disease.
- A definitive diagnosis is made after death by examining brain tissue during an autopsy but there are tools that physicians now use to test people who have memory problems and make a diagnoses of Alzheimer’s. An examination includes questions, past medical history, ability to carry out daily activities, behavior changes, problem solving, medical tests, and brain scans. Under the Affordable Care Act, doctors are mandated to pursue cognitive testing as part of preventive care of our seniors.
- There is a family connection in Alzheimer’s disease via genetic mutations. One of many studies into this genetic link is testing underway as part of the Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project, which is investigating the gene sequences of participants, including large families with multiple members diagnosed with dementia, to determine what genetic variants are involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Genome mapping of families continues and is expected to identify high-risk of even protective variants in the genes.
- More and more young people are being diagnosed and early-onset diagnosis in those 30 to 60 years old accounts for about 5% of diagnoses. This usually occurs due to familial dementia. There are three known genes inherited from a parent that are linked to Alzheimer’s.
- Funding into research has greatly increased and there are over 90 drugs in clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s and more are waiting to be approved for human testing. The National Institute on Aging is working diligently to promote scientists, researcher and physicians who work together to make preventing the disease a reality.
- Plaques and tangles in the brain along with the loss of connections between the neurons in the brain are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. It seems that damage to the brain begins the process about a decade before diagnosis is made. When nerve damage reaches the hippocampus the person begins to have difficulty with memory and the brain begins to shrink.
- Effects on family caregivers are powerful – physical, emotional, financial, and often longer term than anticipated. There is the necessary day-to-day care, the often overwhelming decisions to be made, the cost of care, but also the change in the dynamics of the family caregiver and senior. You may no longer feel like the child but the parent, perhaps the wife has become the mother or the friend now the care taker. Where does that leave the self-identity of the family caregiver? Learning about the disease, connecting with others to gain support and learning to deal with the stress add to the tasks required but the needed resources are more prevalent. Supporting the family caregiver is one focus of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Stages of Alzheimer’s disease have been identified – mild cognitive impairment, mild, moderate and severe Alzheimer’s disease each accompanied by their own specific, progressive loss of function. The more we know about each stage, the easier it is to cope with the progressive changes in our senior loved ones.
- Because lifestyle factors have been shown to influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease, preventing the disease is becoming very important. Lifestyle factors such as vascular and metabolic relationships are being researched so that we can impact our own health. Healthy diet, physical activity, socialization, and mental stimulation will help reduce the risk of developing dementia. Clinical trials with healthy participants are underway and researchers encourage us to participate.
- There is still no viable treatment or cure on the immediate horizon. There may be a vaccine in the future or a drug that impacts the disease. Many experts feel that the answer may lie in a drug cocktail to treat Alzheimer’s disease similar to AIDs. It becomes even more important from the knowledge we are gathering to get an early diagnosis so that the treatments that are coming can be effective.
Heart / Brain Connection
Research has shown us that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. But why? Our hearts pump blood to our brains in order to provide oxygen and energy (fuel). When our heart doesn’t function properly it will negatively affect the nourishment our brains receive, inevitably leading to damage.
We all need to keep our hearts healthy and help our senior loved ones stay healthy also. Lifestyle changes will help us to achieve that goal. It may not always be easy each day to avoid whatever temptations plague us, but it is worth it to preserve and protect our brains.
Here are some strategies to protect your heart that you and your senior loved one can do:
- Eat a healthy diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat foods that are minimally processed without added fat, sodium and sugar. Increase the fiber in our diets by eating more whole grains and fresh foods. Limit the overall fat in our diets but avoiding fried foods, trans fat, and saturated fat. Increase the good fats – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats, and omega 3 fatty acids. Choose baked or grilled food, eat fish twice a week, and include antioxidants in your meals. Limit cholesterol containing foods as you manage your overall fat intake.
- Watch your sodium intake. Limit excessive sodium in the foods you buy or when you add it to your food yourself.
- Exercise daily. You and your senior need to make an effort to move every day. Find activities that you all enjoy and participate in them actively and consistently.
- Stop smoking!
- Manage your weight. If you or your senior are overweight, find ways to reduce your portions, use more energy than you consume and stay active.
- Be aware of your numbers and your senior’s so that you can focus your efforts on the areas that require lifestyle changes. We are all different and have different issues to overcome. If you are fully informed you can target the correct habits to overcome for your improved health.
We know that knowledge is power so the more we know about Alzheimer’s disease and our ability to prevent its affects will only help us and our senior loved ones. Let’s all support research, clinical trials and lifestyle changes for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.