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How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Today, millions of children and life-long partners sadly watch their parent or companion dwindle away to a former shell of their self, as healthy brain tissue begins to deteriorate with age. When it comes to one of the most common causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for the loss of intellectual capacity and the ability to socialize in a familiar manner. The decline is steady, as extreme memory failure takes place and mental faculties start to break down. In the most severe cases, daily functioning is highly affected – transforming individuals into “new people” that are unrecognizable to family and friends.

How to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease (also known as AD or Alzheimer’s) is a neurodegenerative disease that typically attacks people over the age of 65. Out of the nearly 24 million people across the world battling dementia, an estimated 60% of patients have Alzheimer’s [1]. The disease is often depicted as a mystery, where no cure has yet to become a reality. However, researchers have made great strides over the years regarding the treatment and gaining a better understanding of the disease.

While the occasional forgetfulness is quite uncommon, Alzheimer’s represents an elevated form of memory loss that can tear apart families and friendships. The most damaging aspect of the disease is seen in the forgetting of names and faces of people, places, and objects that are most familiar to them. Alzheimer’s can cause a married man of 30 years to completely forget the strong bond he once shared with his wife. Parents no longer recognize the faces of their children and an accomplished artist may suddenly lose the ability to paint because he cannot remember how.

Alzheimer’s disease is progressive and only gets worse with time because the brain continues to deteriorate. The condition may start with slight memory loss and confusion, but will soon turn into mental blocks that cannot be reversed. A person with Alzheimer’s will eventually lose the capacity to reason, remember, and learn. Common signs and symptoms associated with the disease include [2]:

a) Increased Forgetfulness:

Stretches of forgetfulness strike individuals with Alzheimer’s, which can manifest in simply forgetting how to get across town by car or experiencing difficulty remembering a recent event. A sign of Alzheimer’s is seen in people who will repeat things and forget entire conversations. The forgetfulness will become persistent and will start to include the forgetting of the name of family members and everyday objects they are quite familiar with.

b) Loss of Judgment:

An Alzheimer’s patient may find it hard to solve everyday problems, such as coming to the conclusion that it is correct to turn off the stove when food is burning. Alzheimer’s also causes one to find it difficult to make solid decisions, accurately judge situations, and make effective plans.

c) Trouble with Numbers:

Alzheimer’s can cause people to lose the ability to balance their checkbook, calculate figures, or deal with numbers.

d) Diminished Expressions:

Some Alzheimer’s patients find it difficult to express their thoughts. Over time, they will face trouble reading and writing.

e) Disorientation:

Losing a sense of time and forgetting important dates are not uncommon for a patient with Alzheimer’s.

f) Shift in Personality:

The relative with Alzheimer’s will gradually become a different person. They may start to exhibit mood swings, show distrust in you, display increased stubbornness, and abandon their previous social enjoyments. A patient may become restless, anxious, aggressive, and sometimes behave in an unacceptable manner.

Overall, the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are different for each and every patient. However, the typical amount of time it takes for a patient to succumb to the disease is about eight years. In a few cases, some people have been able to live for more than 10 years with Alzheimer’s.

Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

No one really knows the definitive cause of Alzheimer’s, although the changes associated with the brain tissue of a patient is undeniable. There is no doubt that the disease damages, attacks, and destroys cells in the brain. While a healthy brain possesses billions of nerve cells called neurons, an Alzheimer’s patient will begin to display diminished numbers of neurons in various parts of the brain. A neuron is responsible for creating electrical and chemical signals that aid in the processes of thinking, feeling, and remembering.

There is no one test that states whether or not a person is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Usually, a doctor will start testing to rule out other conditions and diseases typically associated with memory loss. For instance, brief strokes that go undetected can mimic the same signs as Alzheimer’s by temporarily disrupting the flow of blood to the brain.

In order to accurately diagnosis Alzheimer’s, a doctor may concentrate on the medical history of a patient; conduct blood tests; evaluate current mental state; test neuropsychological aspects (like problem-solving abilities); and administer a brain scan (such as a CT scan, PET scan, or MRI). When relying on these methods, a doctor can accurately diagnose 90% of Alzheimer’s cases.

Alzheimer’s Risk Factors

The complexity of Alzheimer’s is seen in the many likely causes of the disease, including contributing factors, genetic susceptibility, threat of infection, and reduced circulation in the brain. The threat of this disease appears to be greater in people displaying the following risk factors:

a) Age:

Alzheimer’s generally attacks people who are older than 65 years old. In a few rare cases, the disease has been detected in people younger than 40. As one nears the ripe age of 85, their chances of developing Alzheimer’s will increase to 50%.

b) Family Tree:

If your mother, father, sister, or brother has Alzheimer’s, the chances of developing this condition become greater.

c) Gender:

Since women tend to live longer than men, the chances of them developing the disease are greater than males.

d) Lifestyle Behaviors:

High cholesterol levels and high blood pressure are often linked with an increase in developing Alzheimer’s. Not getting enough exercise has also been connected to the disease.

e) Education:

Some studies have actually found a link between experiencing less education and the chances for suffering from Alzheimer’s. A couple of theories suggest that the more you use your brain, the more synapses are created – meaning you will benefit from a greater reserve as you grow older.

f) Toxic Substances:

A popular theory regarding Alzheimer’s states that overexposure to various trace metals or chemicals can lead to the disease.

g) Head Injury:

Research regarding former boxers show that serious traumatic injuries to the head increases the chances of dementia, which is a risk factor associated with Alzheimer’s.

The Negative Effects of Alzheimer’s

There is an assortment of mental, emotional, physical, and financial outcomes associated with Alzheimer’s. The confusion and frustration of a person slowly losing the ability to take care of themselves is not the only negative effect. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the leading causes of death within the United States and is estimated to only worsen as the population continues to grow. Beaten only by cancer and heart disease, Alzheimer’s is also one of the most costly diseases in the U.S. with a price tag of more than $100 billion on a yearly basis. Over the years, the federal government has spent millions and millions of dollars on research for finding a cure for the disease.

As for the patient, advanced stages of the disease can cause pneumonia, as Alzheimer’s victims face difficulty swallowing foods and beverages because they tend to inhale some of the meals into their airways and lungs. Urinary incontinence associated with the disease can lead to infections that affect different parts of the body, such as the urinary tract. When left untreated, more serious complications may arise. Alzheimer’s also causes people to become disoriented, which can lead to falls, fractures, serious head injuries, and bleeding of the brain.

How to Prevent Alzheimer’s

Since there are many unknown answers to questions surrounding Alzheimer’s, it is hard for doctors to pinpoint the most effective prevention measures. However, individuals concerned with avoiding this unrelenting condition may turn towards the many risk reducers that physicians suggest until a cure is found for the disease. These include:

a) Prevent Other Conditions:

Blood vessel damage in the brain associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s; therefore – preventing these conditions may help avoid Alzheimer’s disease.

b) Stimulate the Mind:

Intellectual stimulation can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Why not encourage your grandparent to complete a daily crossword or start playing chess?

c) Stay Exercising:

Regular physical exercise possesses numerous medical benefits, including fighting against diseases like Alzheimer’s.

d) Watch Your Diet:

It is believed that a diet low in saturated fat and filled with fruits and vegetables (such as a Mediterranean diet [3]) can ease the risk of Alzheimer’s. The Mediterranean diet is highly recommended, which is centered on B-vitamins (especially folic acid); turmeric; omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil); and fresh fruits and vegetables high in polyphenol antioxidants (like berries, broccoli, grapes, and apples).

e) Stay Social:

It is said that lonely individuals are twice as likely to develop a form of dementia that is linked to Alzheimer’s that occurs late in life than a person who is a social butterfly. It is important to stay engaged in social activities that involve family, friends, and other outlets [4]. This may include attending church outings or joining social clubs focused on hobbies, such as scrapbooking, knitting, or golfing.

f) Take Vitamin E Supplements:

High doses of this vitamin (up to 2000 IU) have shown promise in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. This approach especially works well with vitamin C supplements, which elevates the rate of absorption.

g) Alcoholic Beverage Consumption:

A handful of studies suggest that the moderate consumption of alcohol (like wine, beer, or distilled spirits) can actually lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed that moderate red wine consumption (especially Cabernet Sauvignon) can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s [5]. One glass per day is an acceptable amount to consider.

h) Consider Statins:

Some studies have seen results arise in reducing Alzheimer’s with the administration of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins.

Resources

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alzheimer%27s
[2] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-disease/DS00161/DSECTION=2
[3] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/10/10/earlyshow/contributors/emilysenay/main2076608.shtml
[4] http://www.helpguide.org/elder/alzheimers_prevention_slowing_down_treatment.htm
[5] http://www.livescience.com/health/060928_red_wine.html

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