According to the US National Institutes of Health, there are approximately 5 million Americans who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This astonishingly high number is expected to continue rising unless a definitive cure can be found. Because this form of dementia continues to baffle science, many questions still remain about this disease. However, there are many ways that you can reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s. But before talking about ways of reducing risk factors of Alzheimer’s, let’s find out a little more about the disease.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Though plenty of people are familiar with the term Alzheimer’s, only a few are really in the know about what this disease means. So what exactly is it?
Named after Alois Alzheimer, the German neuropathologist and psychiatrist who first described the illness in 1906, Alzheimer’s disease is the most widespread type of dementia. Being a part of the group of brain disorders that lead to significant loss of social and intellectual skills, Alzheimer’s is a condition that gradually worsens until vital mental functions like memory no longer exist. The changes that come with the illness are severe enough to cause disruptions in day-to-day functioning. Though the condition is more frequently found in individuals over the age of 65, Alzheimer’s can also strike at a much earlier age.
Because the manifestations of the disease are somewhat unique in every person, doctors may find it tricky to diagnose Alzheimer’s. Many of the signs and symptoms exhibited by a patient with the disease can also be found in other illnesses and disorders, making diagnosing the disease even trickier. The first person who usually notices that something is wrong is the patient, who’ll be experiencing an unusual struggle just to recall and organize thoughts.
The disease is commonly classified into numerous stages and can either be described in 4, 5, 6, or 7 stages. An article on medicalnewstoday.com uses the 7-stage framework, which consists of the following phases: No Impairment Stage, Minimal Impairment Stage, Early Confusion Stage, Mild or Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease, Moderate or Mid-stage Alzheimer’s Disease, Moderately Severe Mid-stage Alzheimer’s Disease, and Severe or Late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. As a person moves from one stage to the next, further cognitive decline can be seen. Deterioration in memory, spatial relationship interpretation, speech, reasoning, judgment, and writing can be seen. Familiar tasks such as bathing and dressing may be forgotten, and changes in behavior and personality may be evident.
What are the Risk Factors?
Unfortunately, no one can identify one main cause for Alzheimer’s to develop in a person. The Alzheimer’s Society lists a number of risk factors, the combination of which might be responsible for the disorder to come into an individual’s life. Check out the following risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease.
As previously mentioned, the disorder is most prevalent in patients aging 65 years and older. Dementia, which Alzheimer’s is part of, touches 1 in 14 persons over 65 years of age and 1 in 6 people over 80. Based on the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Alzheimer’s affects 1 in 100 people aged 65 to 74, 1 in 14 people aged 75 to 84, and 1 in 4 people aged 85 and older. Nevertheless, the condition isn’t limited to the elderly population.
Family History and Genetic Factors
It has been the concern of many that they might inherit the disease from affected members of the family. Research on such a phenomenon is still ongoing, but there have been cases that indicate inheritance of the condition from one family generation to the other. Most of these cases involve the appearance of the disorder comparatively early in a person’s life. Generally, individuals who have a parent or relative with the disease have only a slightly higher risk of getting it themselves.
Other Risk Factors
A lot of other risk factors are thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease. Exposure to aluminum, Down’s syndrome, severe whiplash or head injuries, continual head blows, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, gender (women are more likely to get it), cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol levels have been implicated in the development of the disorder.
How You Can Reduce Your Risk of Getting Alzheimers
While there are risk factors you can’t control, there are also certain risk factors you can control or even eliminate with some lifestyle changes. Here are some steps to reduce your risk of getting the disease.
1. Get your blood sugar under control.
Because diabetes is one of the factors that may increase the probability of acquiring Alzheimer’s, you should do all you can to keep your blood sugar levels within normal ranges. If you haven’t had your levels checked yet, it’s surely a good idea to do so. Baseline data will provide you an idea of whether you have some major changes to make or if you just need to go on as you’ve been doing.
2. Don’t underestimate the benefits of exercise.
Stay physically active, and you might just keep Alzheimer’s away. The physical activity improves blood circulation to the human body including the brain. This keeps the brain cells healthy by supplying it with adequate nutrients as well as enough oxygen.
3. Keep cholesterol levels within acceptable limits.
Another way to ward off cognitive decline is to make sure your cholesterol levels don’t go beyond the limits. Abnormally high levels could significantly increase a person’s risk of developing the condition. High cholesterol not only leads to plaques (markers for the disease), but also result lead to other risk factors like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
4. Adhere to a heart- and brain-healthy diet regimen.
Researchers have found that certain foods like blueberries, fatty fish, ginger, soy products, green tea, and dark berries provide protection against brain cell damage. Heart-healthy foods such as olive oil, whole grains, and nuts can also be beneficial. Also, don’t forget to include vegetables and fruits from across the color spectrum into your diet.
5. Be socially active.
An active social life will keep your brain stimulated, while isolation may cause you to do poorly on memory and cognition exams. As you get older, you can guard against isolation by maintaining a strong support system. Enrolling in group classes, volunteering, and getting out more often are just a few of the ways you can be socially active even when you aren’t so young anymore.
6. Provide your brain adequate mental activity.
There are plenty of ways you can keep yourself mentally active. Puzzles, problem-solving games, lateral thinking riddles, and even the simple act of reading can keep your brain at its top form.
7. Quit smoking.
This is easier said than done, but your efforts will go a long way. Smoking is not only one of the risk factors you can control, but is also one of the few factors you can actually get rid of totally.
8. Manage your stress.
A stressful lifestyle will bring you closer to high blood pressure, thus, closer to Alzheimer’s. Try to find the lighter side of things, and take part in relaxation activities. Stress will always be around, but you can definitely take steps to prevent it from ruining your health.
9. Keep your head out of trauma’s way.
Putting yourself in situations where head trauma will be likely, such as boxing, might just be the cause of your declining cognitive functions later on. Try to avoid these kinds of situations. You’ll surely thank yourself for it.
10. Get some sleep!
The brain relies on rest and sleep in order for it to function properly. No matter how many things are on your plate right now, you should still find 7 to 8 hours in a day to devote to brain-energizing sleep.
Netflix enthusiast, horrible speller, jiujitsu hobbyist, weekend drinker, and occasional poker player. Favorite quote is “[o]ut of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”