Take steps NOW to prevent future Alzheimer's disease
Our memory is indescribably precious. We may take it for granted now, but if it were taken from us, normal life and independence would become very difficult or impossible. According to leading experts in the field, dementia affects around 55,000 people in Ireland (1 in 3 people over 65) and this number is expected to double over the next 20 years.
Dementia is the umbrella term for many different neuronal states. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, while other dementias include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Alzheimer's is a serious and increasingly common brain disease in which someone who was previously “normal” experiences progressive loss of cognition and memory. Some memory loss is seen as a natural part of getting older. But Alzheimer's is in no way a "normal" part of aging and is far from inevitable. It is a disease like many others that has causes and the potential for prevention.
Possible causes of Alzheimer's disease
The truth is, we don't yet know the exact cause. Experts agree that, in the vast majority of cases, Alzheimer's, like other common chronic diseases, is likely due to complex interactions between multiple factors. Although some risk factors – like age or genes – cannot be changed, other risk factors – such as high blood pressure and sedentary lifestyle – can usually be changed to reduce the risk. Recent research also suggests that one of the causes could be gum disease.
What we do know is that it affects more women than men and is associated with certain changes in the structure of the brain with abnormal "tangles" of nerve cell proteins known as "amyloid plaques". There is a lot of inflammation in and around these entanglements, and inflammation is believed to play an important role in killing nerve cells and thereby damaging the surrounding brain structure. Some of the current research is aimed at finding ways to reduce this inflammation.
In some cases of Alzheimer's, there is also a familial predisposition associated with a gene that plays a role in handling fats – the so-called APOE gene. However, this gene is not always found, and even if it is, it does not mean that the gene is the only causative factor. Even in the presence of the gene, there is evidence that other factors, including diet, play an important role.
It's important to note that there are other explanations for memory loss and confusion in addition to dementia. These can be anxiety and stress, depression, infections, thyroid diseases, vitamin deficiencies, side effects of medication and diseases such as mild cognitive impairment or strokes. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one, it is a good idea to speak to your GP as soon as possible, as early detection is important.
10 steps to preventing Alzheimer's disease
Can Alzheimer's Disease Be Prevented? This question continues to fascinate researchers and fuel new research. There are still no clear answers – partly due to the need for more extensive study in different populations – but promising research is ongoing. Studies have repeatedly shown that the consumption of fish (particularly omega-3 fatty acids) is linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. Increasingly, researchers have evidence to support the theory that a healthy lifestyle makes all the difference.
(1) increasing your physical activity,
(2) healthy eating (including reducing sugar and processed foods while increasing the consumption of nuts, seeds, vegetables and fiber)
(3) do not smoke,
(4) drink in moderation (if at all),
(5) reduce stress,
(6) get a good night's sleep,
(7) lowering blood pressure,
(8) stay mentally active,
(9) stay socially engaged and
(10) take care of your gums or see a dentist regularly,
then you are far more likely to fight off the condition.
For example, if you exercise alone, it is believed that regular exercise may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease up to 50 percent.
Following the recommendations above can also help slow the progression of the disease in case you develop it. This advice reflects the advice we give our clients on motivating them to achieve a healthier weight. A healthy lifestyle covers all of these factors and with expert coaching we are all able to implement them into our lives. Find out more about our weight loss coaching here.
New treatment for Alzheimer's disease
Exciting new research has recently highlighted drug studies that appear to have successfully removed the sticky plaques from the brain that cause dementia and halt mental decline. The researchers also found that after six months of treatment, the patients stopped getting worse compared to placebo patients, suggesting that their dementia stopped. If it turns out to be effective in larger studies, it could mean that the first drug to change the progression of dementia could be available in just a few years. Although it's still early on, scientists are very hopeful and excited about it.
Contact the Alzheimer Society of Ireland for more information.