We’ll continue on with our aging week by discussing a condition that many fear, Alzheimer’s. What a terrible condition.
- People with advanced Alzheimer’s need help with their daily existence , including bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, eating and other activities.
- Those in the final stages lose the ability to communicate , aren’t able to recognize loved ones and become bed bound and reliant on 24/7 care. In addition, their inability to move makes them more susceptible to infections like pneumonia.
- Alzheimer’s is ultimately fatal . Who wants to end their life (or have a loved one die) like this, or who wants to have someone take care of them in this condition. It is a very real problem and there is no treatment for it!
- There are an estimated 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease (with 1 in 8 people over 65 having the disease).
- Every second someone in America develops Alzheimer’s and that is believed to drop to 33 seconds by mid-century.
Take Preventative Measures to Decrease Risk of Alzheimer’s
It has become a real issue in the country, so we need to start to look at what we can do now to decrease our risk. We’ll look at the disease and some preventative measures you can take, because changing your lifestyle can decrease risk!
Your brain has 100 billion nerve cells, connected at synapses that transfers information. With Alzheimer’s transformations at the synapse start to fail, the number of synapses declines, and eventually cells die. The disease affects different people in different ways. It usually starts, though, having difficulty remembering new information (because disruption of brain cells usually starts in regions of involved in forming new memories).
Damage spreads and more symptoms arise, including:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
- Challenges planning or solving problems.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- Confusion with time or place
- New problems with words in speaking or writing.
- Loss of ability to retrace steps.
- Misplacing things.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
Before we get into lifestyle changes let’s check out some interesting facts (that again show that if we concentrated on health, we could prevent many of the conditions that plague this society):
- Smoking after 65 increases odds by 79%
- Obesity makes you 3 1/2 times more likely to get Alzheimer’s
- Diabetes makes the onset of Alzheimer’s twice as likely
- Chronic stress can quadruple the risk
- Genetics only accounts for 25% of Alzheimer’s cases
So what can we do to decrease of risk of Alzheimer’s?
Well, clearly, stop smoking! Secondly reduce our body fat, which will solve not only obesity, but diabetes. Strategies we’ll discuss are: exercise, diet, keep mind active, sleep, relations, and to protect your brain.
Exercise: Those who live a more physically life have better cognitive futures. Things like gardening, cleaning house, and taking the stairs build brain-healthy movement throughout the day. Weight and resistance training can be beneficial as well, helping to maintain cognitive health.
Diet: Inflammation and insulin resistance injure neurons and inhibit communication between brain cells.
- Eat foods to control inflammation, like foods rich in omega-3’s, cold water fish, nuts, and abundant fresh produce.
- Maintain consistent levels of insulin and blood sugar and avoid packaged, refined, and processed foods (like sugars and white flours that spike glucose and inflame your brain).
- Eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables to get an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (should definitely consist of daily servings of berries and dark leafy greens).
- Drink tea!
Keep Mind Active: An active and stimulated brain decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s. What can you do to keep your brain active?
- Learn something new daily (read a book, study a new language, learn to play an instrument.)
- Practice memorization, go back to 5th grade and practice memorizing your states and capitals, or U.S. Presidents.
- Solve puzzles! Mental exercises build your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations (so work both sides of your brain and try a crossword or sudoku).
- Practice who, what, where, when, and why in your daily routine, it will keep neurons firing.
- Vary your habits to create new brain pathways (take a new route, write with your other hand, rearrange your closet).
Sleep: Again here we are again with the importance of sleep! Sleep is important for your brain to process, store, and recall information; while poor sleep can damage your brain and central nervous system . Something I found interesting was snoring and Alzheimer’s. Snoring (which can be caused by alcohol, smoking, sedating drugs, excess weight, high blood pressure and clogged nasal passages) may signal sleep apnea, a respiratory condition that threatens the heart and mind. Some studies suggest that 70-80% of Alzheimer’s patients experience sleep apnea.
Stress: Chronic stresses increases cortisol, which can:
- Hamper nerve cell growth and connection
- Accelerate cognitive decline
- Cause premature aging, depression, diabetes, and more!
What can you do to decrease stress?
Well, for one thing, breathe; it’s free and easy to do! Stress alters breathing rates and impacts brain oxygen levels, so turn off stress with quiet, deep, abdominal breathing. Be social. Those with strong support systems improve mood and slow cognitive decline.
Protect Your Brain: Two of the most preventable causes of Alzheimer’s are drinking and smoking . A combination of two reduce the age of Alzheimer’s onset by 6-7 years.
Be careful. Head injuries can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. This can be from repeated hits in sports like soccer or boxing (think of Muhammad Ali) or from a single traumatic injury like a car accident.
Alzheimer’s in a terrible condition that one should have to go through. So take steps now to lower risk!