Alzheimer’s disease is steadfastly capturing the attention of American families as the aging population increases. We find ourselves dealing more and more with the reality of it’s impact in our day-to-day life. While it is not always thought of in such terms, it is a terminal illness that once diagnosed will progress in time to a point that will claim the life of it’s victim providing they do not pass from other causes first.
There is an interesting link between heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease in more than one way. In the early 1980’s I participated in a project with a group of nurses to raise awareness for the prevention of heart disease. I was convinced if we heeded the advice of research, eliminatedthe risk factors within our control, the projected rise in death tolls for heart disease over the next thirty years would not occur.
Much to the credit of organization’s like the American Heart Association and many individuals along the way who worked to spread the good news of what can be done, people made lifestyle changes to reduce their personal risk factors, Since that time deaths from cardiac disease has actually decreased 68%. http://news.heart.org/heart-disease-death-rate-continues-to-drop/
While heart disease remains the number one cause of death in America, it is encouraging to know the total number of deaths is on a decline. Multiple factors have contributed to this success including medical advancements, improved access to emergency care and new procedures that did not exist before. Still, the increased awareness of lifestyle choices on cardiac health has been credited in part to the overall decline.
Currently Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in America. In England and Whales Alzheimer’s and dementia is the second leading cause of death. Thirty years ago this diagnosis was not present in the top five causes of death for either charts. In America alone the total number of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple over the next thirty years increasing the total number of victims affected from 5.2 million to a staggering 13.8 million.
What is the link between Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease? There are several:
- As is true with heart disease, through research we have learned there are risk factors and lifestyle choices we can modify or eliminate that will reduce our risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Recent statistics forecast hope that we may be seeing an early return on increased public awareness to what we have learned from research. Previously one in eight individuals over 65 had Alzheimer’s disease compared to the present statistics of one in nine individuals over 65.
- With continued education, adherence to the information available and personal commitment to decreasing risk factors within our control at the earliest age possible, it is likely we will see the same impact on the predicted increase in overall cases of Alzheimer’s disease as we did many years ago for heart disease. The goal here is that through education and compliance the numbers of new cases will decrease instead of increase!
Preventing Alzheimer’s disease:
Thus brings to question: Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented? Can we actually live a healthy lifestyle that for those who are not genetically predisposed can ward off the effects of Alzheimer’s disease all together? It is certainly worth thinking about. Look at the countries wherein Alzheimer’s has the highest overall prevalence of occurrence compared to those that have less of an issue overall:
What does India have in common with Bangladesh? Or Mongolia with Indonesia? If you look at the chart on the above link, not only are these countries among the lowest overall in death rates for Alzheimer’s and dementia in the world, but they are also known for their heavy use of curry and similarities in dietary culture.
There are other foods believed to help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Cooking foods in 100% olive oil is thought to help reduce the plaques and tangles within the brain. Eating an apple each day helps to increase the amount of the neurotransmitter acytecholine which is needed for the brain to function at full capacity. There is a vast amount of information available referencing “brain healthy” and “dementia friendly” diets such as the Mediterranean diet, which is also a heart health diet research supports is good to follow.
Research also has taught us we need to keep our heart healthy in order to keep our brain healthy. Therefore, we have to control other components of our health, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, stress, and all the risk factors associated with maintaining good circulation in order to maintain a healthy brain.
If you consider the fact the brain is an organ of the body, and the healthier any organ is the less likely the organ is to become diseased, it becomes easier to identify lifestyle changes necessary to decrease one’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The lifestyle necessary for Alzheimer’s prevention should begin at the earliest age possible. It may sound strange to think about such things with children, yet again we have learned with the progress made in relationship to heart disease the earlier we begin to make healthier living a habit the better our odds are.
An easy way to identify many of the risk factors and lifestyle “habits” one can adjust immediately is to THINK HEALTH:
T – Take time to rest. Adequate sleep is necessary for a health brain.
H – Helmet hair looks great. Protect your head from injuries.
I – Increase your socialization. Enjoy the company of others.
N – Never stop learning. Challenge your mind constantly.
K – Kick bad habits. Smoking, excessive drinking bad for heart/brain.
H – Harmonize, decrease stress as much as possible.
E – Eat appropriately. Follow a Mediterranean diet.
A- Activity is important. Exercise regularly per physician’s guidelines.
L – Lock your seat belt! Protect your heart from injury.
T – Take time to research current developments latest research.
H- Have a “healthy” outlook. Take care of mental health.
Warning Signs Alzheimer’s disease:
While we learn what can be done today to hopefully prevent Alzheimer’s tomorrow, time will tell if these measures will be as successful as we hope. In the meantime, early diagnosis is essential to ensure the best possible outcome for those who have Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones. The earlier the diagnosis is made, the sooner interventions can begin such as medications that improve brain function, education to minimize loss and maximize function, and access to the supports necessary to manage the disease as it progresses.
Early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease may be difficult to recognize as they are subtle and may be associated with other conditions, such as falling frequently, a slowed gait, a decreased sense of smell, and depression. As the disease progresses the predominant symptom of memory loss that disrupts one’s ability to manage daily life will manifest. The short -term memory becomes increasingly impaired to the point that it is not uncommon for someone to find themselves lost, even when the they are in their own home. Conversely, the long -term memory becomes more vivid and actually replaces current thoughts and events. It can be a very challenging and emotionally exhausting time both for the person experiencing the disease and for those who care for them.
The Alzheimer’s Association provides a comprehensive listing of what to look for http://m.alz.org/10-warning-signs.asp in regards to Alzheimer’s warning signs. If upon review of this chart you believe you know someone who meets the criteria for screening, it is highly recommended they see a physician as soon as possible to determine if the symptoms are being caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other issues. It should be noted these symptoms are not part of the normal aging process but rather abnormal manifestations that require medical attention.
Research continues. Hope abounds. It is our prayer that we will hear of a breakthrough cure for this dreadful disease that slowly robs us of our memories, our personalities and eventually our life. Until that day, we must spread the message of what can be done to protect ourselves today from becoming a member of the “one in nine” tomorrow.