Alzheimer's disease. It's a subject that hits close to home.
My mother died of it at the age of 86 after about 20 years of progressive symptoms, the last decade or so in a nursing home.
Having a first degree-related (mother, father, sibling) puts me at increased risk of developing Alzheimer's. And although the causes are myriad and the treatment complicated, there are things I can do to at least delay the symptoms, experts say.
Dementia is a general umbrella term for loss of memory and other mental abilities that are large enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's is a progressive reduction of cognitive memory over a period of time. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia. Vascular dementia that occurs after a stroke is the second most common type. There are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible.
More than 5.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer's association found. Irreversible, it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Women are at higher risk than men, which covers two thirds of patients.
"Alzheimer's disease is a public health crisis," says Sarah Milligan, Northwest Indiana social worker and healthcare consultant with the Greater Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, the third largest foundation for research behind the United States and Chinese governments.
A brain with advanced Alzheimer's is less than a healthy brain, according to Stuart Zola, an expert in the disease and professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Emory University School of Medicine. Cell function is disturbed, which prevents neurons from communicating and impairing normal cognitive function. Cognitive impairments – problems with language, memory, thinking and those in addition to typical age-related changes – are related to the development of abnormal protein deposits in the brain.
There are a number of risk factors, which means you are sure to get Alzheimer's.
Begin with heredity, at least 27 genetic variations underlie Alzheimer's. And even though the presence of the EA4 (APOE e4) genapolipoprotein that is linked to Alzheimer's disease does not mean that a person will get it, "those who have a mother, father or sibling with the disease are at risk of 60 to 80 percent" Jaswinder Singh, a neuropsychologist at Mid-America Psychological & Counseling Services, with offices in Merrillville and Munster.
With that said age, the biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease, which appears in the largest numbers after 60 to 65. Alzheimer's Association data show that one in 10 people 65 years of age and older have Alzheimer's dementia.
"Head trauma may possibly aggravate the disease of those who are already prone," says Singh.
Alzheimer's is greater among the illiterate, which makes the case for intellectual activity, says Zola. The theory behind this is that when we learn, we put down more networks and connections in the brain. The more storage that occurs, the better equipped we are to ward off the disease effects.
Singh proposes that those with increased risk take a simple review assessment between the ages of 50 and 55, and repeat the test every other three to three years.
According to Zola, the number of health conditions increases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's. For one, metabolic syndrome – including obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose levels and high triglycerides – contributes but can be controlled with diet and exercise.
Chronic elevated blood sugar (and blood insulin) seems to increase inflammation, as well as affect the size / development of the hippocampus, a brain structure essential to learning and memory. "There are many similarities in the brain in people with diabetes and Alzheimer's," says Zola.
Doctors including Singh offer simple tests to assess whether the patient's symptoms are depression, anxiety, drug side effects or Alzheimer's. Especially in men, a change in personality can indicate the early stages of Alzheimer's. Other clues include difficulty with words, agitation or confusion that occurs around the sunset and loss of short-term memories.
"When we age, it's normal to forget conversations, the names of people, the name of the movie we saw last week or the restaurant we ate in," says Singh. "That's what we refer to as episodic memory."
"If we wonder if we have Alzheimer's, we're pretty good," says Zola. " This is when our family is wondering and we are not aware of a problem that there may be one. "
"Uninterrupted sleepy sleep is one of the most important parts of our lives and one that we often neglect," according to Singh. "It is important to rule out sleep apnea in those who sneak or are overweight, because long term untreated sleep apnea can lead to mild cognitive impairment."
Power napping for 20 to 30 minutes is advantageous, especially if you sleep six hours or less per night. Singh suggests that you develop good sleep habits: Go to bed at the same time each evening, keep TVs out of the bedroom and have separate bedrooms if a partner is restless, snores or rises several times during the night.
Change your diet to someone who reduces inflammation, such as the Mediterranean diet. This includes foods rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, anti-inflammatory fats, nutrients and lean protein. Think of multicolored vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, fish, poultry, eggs, herbs and spices.
Singh recommends that you eat fish three times a week, boil with turmeric and ginger, consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables that are dark blue, dark green and dark red and cut out sugar, salt and white flour.
People who exercised an hour three times a week for three months increased blood flow in the blood, improved memory, lowered blood pressure, and improved nerve tissue development. All activities – cooking, gardening and walking – helps. "Even a 10 minute walk three days a week will increase blood flow in the brain's premature temporal region," reports Singh.
Another major factor is social commitment. Those who are closely related to others, have confidence and solid skills can slow the development of Alzheimer's.
Learn new skills like a foreign language or music, try out new hobbies and challenge yourself. Singh suggests that everyone follows a "20 second rule" wherever they are, regardless of their cognitive ability: "Before leaving your home, the restaurant takes my office 20 seconds to scan the area to make sure you have all your belongings. It keeps you sharp, and you do not run out the door and back in again to take your car keys. "
Manage your stress by meditating, relaxing, having fun, being positive and spending time outdoors. Do not smoke. Pay attention to alcohol use.
"With the current number of victims and those affected by the current disease path, everyone will know someone who has the disease," said Milligan, from the Alzheimer's Association. "That's why it's so important for everyone to understand what Alzheimer's disease and dementia are, warning signs and their potential risk of developing the disease."