July 25, 2024

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common types of dementia, which is a general term for conditions that impair one’s ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with everyday activities. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that begins with memory loss and can potentially prevent a person from carrying out daily activities, using parts of their brain for thought and memory, conversing with others, and responding to the environment. However, the degree to which the disease affects individual parts of the brain varies from person to person, leading to varying symptoms.

How common is Alzheimer’s disease?

In 2020, as many as 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease, and it is projected that nearly 14 million people will be living with Alzheimer’s by 2060, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While younger people can get Alzheimer’s, it is less common. Statistics show that age brings much greater risk. The number of people living with this disease doubles every five years beyond the age of 65. Some people start seeing clues around the age of 60, so it is important to keep an eye on your own health and the health of your loved ones with each passing year.

The consequences for not paying attention are lethal. Alzheimer’s disease is among the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, and it’s the fifth-leading cause of death specifically for U.S. adults aged 65 or older. Also keep in mind that dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is often under-reported on death certificates, which means the death rates could be significantly higher than they already are.

Causes and signs of Alzheimer’s disease

Knowing the enemy is one thing; understanding the enemy is another. Scientific research indicates that there is not one single cause of Alzheimer’s, making it more difficult to pinpoint how to prevent it. Substantial contributing factors include family history, age, and diet. Scientists are currently exploring the roles education and environment play as well.

It is possible that certain symptoms are related to other causes (or something not nearly as serious), but it’s important to look out for the following signs because they may indicate some form of dementia:

  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life (such as repeating questions or getting lost in familiar places)
  • Changes in mood, personality, or behavior
  • Misplacing or losing things with an inability to trace steps to find them

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, it’s important to talk with a healthcare provider who can help determine if the person is experiencing Alzheimer’s disease or another condition that may be more treatable, such as a vitamin deficiency or side effects from medication.

Tips for improving brain health

Adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors can increase brain health and potentially reduce the risk of developing cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are seven healthy brain habits to incorporate into your lifestyle:

  1. Exercise regularly: Aerobic physical activity has been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, and maintaining a healthy weight overall by exercising and eating nutritious foods are both great strategies for keeping the brain strong.
  2. Prioritize education: Committing to constant learning can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
  3. Protect your head: Wearing a seatbelt or a helmet and taking steps to prevent falls can reduce the risk of brain injuries.
  4. Consult with your doctor regularly about chronic conditions: Diabetes and high blood pressure are both significant risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Talk to your medical providers about controlling these conditions or preventing them before they develop.
  5. Challenge your mind: Activities like completing puzzles, building furniture, or playing mind-activating games are beneficial to the brain.
  6. Get consistent sleep: Going to bed at a decent hour and eliminating distractions are crucial steps to maintaining memory and cognitive function.
  7. Quit smoking: Not smoking can decrease your risk of cognitive decline.

Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but a team of dedicated medical professionals and family members can help improve the quality of life for both the person suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Treatment often focuses on slowing the disease’s progression, managing symptoms, and strengthening brain health as much as possible.

While Alzheimer’s disease presents significant challenges, understanding its nature, recognizing the signs, and adopting preventive measures can help manage its impact. Ongoing research and resources continue to support individuals and caregivers affected by this condition.

Optum Care Washington has been helping patients in Puget Sound for over 100 years. They are dedicated to providing comprehensive care, expert advice, and thoughtful treatment to everyone who trusts them with their health and wellness. To explore their providers and to schedule an appointment, visit Optum Care Washington online.

Talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level. This is especially important for those with underlying medical conditions. Ask about the amounts and types of activities that may be best for you.

This article is educational in nature and should not be considered official medical advice.

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