What you need to know about Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
Aging might be the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease, but the disease is not a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia, causes toxic changes in the brain even before symptoms develop, according to the National Institute on Aging. Plaques and other processes kill neurons in the brain, causing memory loss, problems with judgment, language and behavior.
The risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease doubles every five years after the age of 65, according to the National Institute on Aging. Practicing and maintaining healthy habits, including a healthy weight, balanced diet and regular physical daily exercise, can help slow the disease’s progress.
“We do not know how to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, unfortunately,” said Dr. Carol Venable, Internal Medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Frisco Medical Offices. “We do know that there is an association of less cognitive decline in individuals who remain physically active. The exact causality and association is not fully understood, however.”
Evidence shows that at least 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise three to four days per week can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, according to Harvard Medical School. Getting enough sleep, 7 to 8 hours per night, and eating a Mediterranean diet — which is high in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, nuts, legumes, fish, with moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, dairy and red wine — can also help slow the disease’s progression.
Doctors also recommend staying mentally active by learning new things, reading, playing cards or other games, working crossword puzzles and socializing.
Alzheimer’s Disease varies from person to person, with some cases progressing slowly over time and others advancing quickly. While age is the biggest risk factor, evidence shows other risks include diabetes, high blood pressure, head trauma and high cholesterol.
Memory loss is an early sign of Alzheimer’s, while more subtle signs include difficulty with complex thinking and problem solving, personality changes and behavioral issues, Venable said.
“If you see these signs in a loved one, it is important to help bring them to the attention of the patient’s primary care provider,” she said. “The primary care provider will often do a test of cognitive function. He or she may also order labs and/or imaging to define the extent of memory loss and look for reversible causes of dementia.”
Venable said that while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, there are some medications available for treatment that may modestly slow down the progression of the disease. Sometimes treatments are also needed to control behavioral symptoms associated with the disease, she added.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends developing effective coping strategies that help patients remain engaged and active, respond to challenges that help maximize independence, and gain a sense of control over their lives.
It’s also important to accept help from others. While it might feel like a loss of independence to ask for help, getting help when it’s needed could actually help Alzheimer’s sufferers maintain their independence in the long run, according to the association.
“One of our major focuses in primary care is supporting caregivers and educating them about Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as familiarizing them with community resources,” Venable said.
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