As we get older, our bodies become less robust. Our bones get thinner and weaker and our minds less sharp. We become more susceptible to syndromes and diseases. One such disease is Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. To date, the cause of it is not yet known.
However, genetics may be a determinant. You are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s if one of your parents has it. There’s also a growing body of studies that suggest that women are more likely to be affected by the disease. Studies show that you may be more likely to get it from your mother rather than your father. More than half of American Alzheimer’s patients are women.
Though it happens less frequently, the disease can also affect people younger than 65 years of age. Many people think that Alzheimer’s only emerges in old age, but the fact is that it can arise as early as in our 30s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 200,000 Americans suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. It impairs our thinking, memory, and behavior. It is perhaps most known for its effect on memory. One of the earliest symptoms for it includes the inability to remember newly learned information. This is because the disease tends to affect the part of the brain that deals with learning first. They may have difficulty with planning, problem-solving, and completing tasks that are supposedly familiar to them.
As the disease progresses, the patient forgets more and more information from their long term memory, such as basic facts about themselves and events in history. Eventually, it progresses to a point where the individual becomes incapable of basic tasks such as conversing and controlling their movements. At this point, patients require constant care and assistance from a hospice nurse or caregiver.
There is also no known cure for Alzheimer’s to this day. Life expectancy for patients can vary. Some live for three to 10 years after diagnosis, but there are also those who live for over 20.
Because memory loss is a common manifestation of old age, it can be difficult to differentiate early signs with age-induced memory loss. So how do you tell the difference?
Harmless forgetfulness vs. Alzheimer’s
Remember that Alzheimer’s is more than just memory loss. It is much more debilitating. Patients find it more and more difficult to plan and learn new information. They have difficulty recalling and learning new information. Those with normal, age-induced memory loss can be helped by supplying hints, such as context, and they are much more likely to remember things they recently learned.
Another possible cause of memory loss that may not be Alzheimer’s is sleep deprivation. This affects the cognitive abilities of people of any age.
People who have experienced trauma — whether physical or emotional — also tend to experience memory loss. Stress, anxiety, and depression can cause temporary memory loss that can be easily mistaken for Alzheimer’s. In such cases, however, the symptoms tend to subside as the individual recovers from the trauma.
Forgetfulness can also be a side effect of certain medications.
How do we lower our risk of Alzheimer’s?
Even though there’s still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are ways to reduce one’s risk of developing it. The key is to live a healthy lifestyle. Experts recommend exercising your brain by learning new skills and other activities that stimulate it, such as socializing, reading, playing chess, and answering crossword puzzles.
Physical exercise also benefits your brain health. It allows more oxygen to travel to the brain and helps new brain cells and connections form. Dancing, in particular, is a great mental and physical workout because it requires you to observe and remember patterns in choreography and music.
Another benefit of physical exercise is that it reduces stress. Stress is linked to a higher risk of many medical conditions. Since it is linked to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, which can cause memory loss, experts believe that stress may increase one’s risk of Alzheimer’s. Another way to manage stress is through mediation.
A key element of a healthy lifestyle is, of course, maintaining a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and antioxidants that benefit our overall health. Doctors also recommend avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol.
Having annual physical check-ups will help you and your physician to spot diseases in their early stages. A person who fears they may be exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer’s may have their friends and family observe them and see if their symptoms are worsening.
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that diminishes cognitive abilities. It is much more permanent and debilitating than memory loss induced by stress, trauma, depression, or old age. As Alzheimer’s worsens, it also impairs the ability to carry out simple tasks, such as conversing and moving. While it is incurable, we can lower our risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of brain degeneration by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.