Alzheimer’s disease continues to have no real treatment or cure.
While we have hopes for the future, the latest facts and figures from the Alzheimer’s Association continue to paint a picture of crisis.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — a degenerative brain disease characterized by loss of memory, cognitive skills, and problem-solving ability.
Neurons in the brain are damaged and destroyed, resulting in the inability of the person with dementia to care for themselves.
Many people across the globe are fundraising in the hopes that research will one day find a cure to end Alzheimer’s or at least a way to slow its progression in those diagnosed.
Because of the research that has happened in the last ten years, we know much more about the disease process but not enough yet to prevent, treat or cure it.
Researchers now believe early detection will be important to prevent, treat and cure the disease.
The report begins with the not surprising result that more people are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The current figure is one person diagnosed every 66 seconds!
- No single test can detect Alzheimer’s disease; currently a variety of tools including a comprehensive medical evaluation are used by a neurologist to diagnose the disease
- Accumulation of brain plaques, tau and beta-amyloid, interfere with neuron function and the transfer of information in the brain
- Inflammation, damaged neurons and brain tissue shrinkage has been found in the brain of those with advanced Alzheimer’s
- Brain changes are thought to begin 20 years or more before symptoms appear
- Genetic mutations in the brain account for a small percentage (<1%) of Alzheimer’s
- 1 in 9 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease
- One third of people over 85 have Alzheimer’s disease
- 5.4 million Americans are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease
- 15 million provide unpaid care for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease
- 83% of the help given to an older person comes from family members more than half of whom are untrained for the duties they perform
- Because Alzheimer’s is underdiagnosed and underreported, a large portion of Americans may not know they have Alzheimer’s
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
There are many risk factors that have been identified through the latest research. Some are modifiable and some are not.
A combination of risk factors, rather than a single cause, is now thought by experts to lead to the disease.
- Age — the greatest risk factor is being 65 or older; Alzheimer’s is not a normal outcome of aging however and age alone will not lead to the disease.
- Family history — people with a first degree relative (parent or sibling) are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. However, you don’t need to have a family history to be diagnosed. People with more than one relative with the disease are at even greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- APOE-e4 Gen — APOE gene is the blueprint for cholesterol transport in the blood. We all have this gene in either an e2, e3 or e4 form. The most common in e3, e2 is less common. e4 is associated with increased risk for the disease and e2 is thought to reduce risk for the disease. There are about 20 other genes that have thus far been associated with risk for development of Alzheimer’s. Having an e4 form doesn’t mean you will develop Alzheimer’s. APOE genes are not the same as a gene mutation.
Modifiable Risk Factors – Prevention
There are new reports almost daily about how this drug or that food will prevent us from being diagnosed with this progressive neurological disease.
Lifestyle changes have long been encouraged to prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke.
Now we are finding out that many lifestyle changes may impact whether or not we develop Alzheimer’s disease, too.
These lifestyle factors are known as modifiable risk factors and research is proving the need to make changes.
Now is the time to begin to adjust our habits to prevent this devastating disease.
Heart Health = Brain Health!
A strong, healthy heart is able to pump much needed oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the brain.
- Manage your weight in a healthy range. Obesity can lead to heart disease thereby increasing your risk of dementia.
- Get physically active! Being active can reduce your risk for dementia by protecting both the heart and the brain.
- Eat a healthy diet, especially avoiding saturated fats, that can lead to heart disease.
- Stop smoking which can damage your blood vessels and damage your heart and brain.
Be a lifelong learner!
Stimulating the brain not just as you age but throughout your lifetime will help prevent neuron damage.
More education is thought to build a ‘cognitive reserve’ that helps fight against brain changes through increased brain connections.
Less education may also mean that a person’s job is not going to be mentally stimulating over the course of their lifetime as well as lower socioeconomic status.
Research indicates that we should be mentally engaged throughout our life to help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Avoid Brain Injury
Sustaining an injury to the brain disrupts brain function.
A strike or jolt to the brain leading to traumatic brain injury occurs to as many as 1.7 million people in the US, primarily as a result of motor vehicle accidents and falls.
Repeated head injuries put us at higher risk of dementia and neurodegenerative disease than those who have not experienced head trauma.
Experts urge us to wear seat belts, avoid head injury during contact sports, wear helmets while biking, and avoid falls, especially in the home environment.
There have been many media reports about other things that we can do to prevent our risk of developing dementia and these may or may not be factual. If they will do no harm then they may be worth trying.
- Drink your caffeine. Caffeine is thought to reduce the production of amyloid plaques in the brain leading to dementia.
- Floss your teeth. Periodontal disease has been linked to the development of dementia due to inflammation of the gums migrating to the brain.
- Stimulate your brain by using the internet, especially for activities that improve memory skills.
- Encourage your brain to make new cells by participating in aerobic exercise like brisk walking, sleeping well, drinking alcohol in moderation and getting enough B vitamins.
- Meditation can improve blood flow resulting in decreased cognitive loss.
- Don’t forget the dairy. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to the loss of cognition.
- Get vaccinated and stay infection free. Infection and inflammation leads to plaque formation.
A good insurance plan would be to incorporate these lifestyle changes into your routine–they are not too hard to do and could be fun for you and your family while you help to lower your risk of developing dementia!