07 Jun Alzheimer’s: The Who, What, and How
June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, so this month we’ll be deep-diving into this strikingly common dementia variant.
First, let’s start with the basics: what is Alzheimer’s Disease, who does it affect, and is there anything we can do to prevent it.
A quick Alzheimer’s primer
Alzheimer’s—a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior—is the most common cause of dementia; it accounts for roughly 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases.
- More than 6 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s
- Worldwide, at least 50 million people are affected
- In 2020, COVID-19 contributed to a 17% increase in Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths
- About one-third of people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer’s disease develop dementia within 5 years of diagnosis
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there have been many medical advancement in recent years, resulting in:
New preventative measures
Just this month, Yale researchers discovered an experimental drug that actually repaired Alzheimer’s-affected brains in mice. Of course, this research is extremely new, but definitely something to watch.
Alzheimer’s disease causes and risk factors
Experts haven’t determined a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but they have identified certain risk factors, including:
- Age: Most people who develop Alzheimer’s disease are 65 years of age or older.
- Family history: If you have an immediate family member who has developed the condition, you’re more likely to get it.
- Genetics: Certain genes have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease; it simply raises your risk level.
Other possible risk factors include a history of:
Of course, talking with your doctor will help you learn more about your personal risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
What are some recent Alzheimer’s research updates?
New ways of testing for and treating Alzheimer’s pop up almost on a daily basis. Just glimpsing at two recent scientific discoveries about Alzheimer’s shows how wide-ranging, eclectic, and almost bizarrely specific Alzheimer’s research can be.
Walking speed may indicate possibility of dementia
Coffee consumption may reduce Alzheimer’s risk
Researchers discovered a link between the amount of coffee people drink and the rate at which their cognition declines with age. “Analysis of the data showed that habitual coffee drinking was positively associated with the cognitive areas of executive function, attention,” and the PACC score, a test that combines tests for memory, executive function, and cognition.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Everyone has episodes of forgetfulness from time to time. But people with Alzheimer’s disease display certain ongoing behaviors and symptoms that worsen over time. These can include:
- memory loss affecting daily activities, such as keeping appointments
- trouble with familiar tasks, such as using a microwave
- difficulties with problem-solving
- trouble with speech or writing
- becoming disoriented about times or places
- decreased judgment
- decreased personal hygiene
- mood and personality changes
- withdrawal from friends, family, and community
These signs don’t always mean that a person has Alzheimer’s. It’s important to see a doctor to determine the cause.
Symptoms change according to the stage of the disease. In later stages, people with Alzheimer’s often have significant trouble with talking, moving, or responding to what’s happening around them.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease
The only definitive way to diagnose someone with Alzheimer’s disease is to examine their brain tissue after death. But a doctor can use other examinations and tests to assess your mental abilities, diagnose dementia, and rule out other conditions.
The doctor will likely start by taking a medical history. They may ask about your:
- family medical history
- other current or past health conditions
- current or past medications
- diet, alcohol intake, and other lifestyle habits
From there, your doctor will likely request several tests to help determine if you have Alzheimer’s disease.
Read more 10 Signs of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
Just as there’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, there are no foolproof preventive measures. For now, health-promoting lifestyle habits are the best tools we have to prevent cognitive decline.
The following steps may help:
- Try to quit smoking. If you smoke, quitting benefits your health both immediately and in the long term.
- Exercise regularly. Getting active reduces the risk of many conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Keep your brain active. Try some cognitive training exercises, such as vocabulary building, learning or teaching new skills, and meditation.
- Eat well. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain an active social life. Friendships, volunteering, and hobbies are likely to benefit your overall health.
Be sure to talk with your doctor before making any big changes in your lifestyle.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, the tasks of daily living require more support. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to start learning about what to expect and what your role may be in your loved one’s future care.
Caregiving is a role that’s typically not easy, but it can also be very rewarding.
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, here are some ways to plan and prepare for caregiving:
- Educate yourself. Learn all you can about Alzheimer’s, its stages, and its typical symptoms. (By reading this article, you’re already on the right track!)
- Connect. Reach out to and connect with family members who can step in to help.
- Team up. Consider joining a support group for dementia caregivers.
- Research outside help. Look up professional home care, respite care, and adult day care programs in your area.
- Take care of yourself, too. Remember that you’ll need support too. Reach out to the people you’re close to, and be open to accepting help.
As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself as well as your loved one. Caregiving has its difficult moments, and the strain of ongoing responsibilities can start to negatively affect your health. As much as possible, a robust care plan should include support for you, too.
This article was brought to you by the Proactive Health Management Plan in partnership with Healthline.