Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia often leading to memory loss and other forms of cognitive impairment. The disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in June focuses on sharing the signs, methods of prevention and treatment available with individuals and families who are affected by this disease.

The Warning Signs

Though Alzheimer’s progresses differently for every individual, symptoms tend to develop slowly and worsen until they affect the ability to perform daily tasks. The Alzheimer’s association shares that early signs and symptoms of this condition often include:

  • Becoming lost in familiar places
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Misplacing things frequently
  • Needing help with personal care
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Trouble planning or solving problems

What You Can Control

Age and family history are two of the primary risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, most often developing in individuals 65 and older. Thankfully, there are a variety of controllable lifestyle choices that help manage the risk of developing the disease.

  • Diet: Studies have shown that certain foods are linked to a healthier brain and improved memory performance. Examples include: apples, avocados, blackberries, broccoli, salmon, tomatoes and walnuts.
  • Learn New Things: Regularly stimulating the brain can strengthen connections between nerve cells and improve memory. Reading, puzzles, brain games and learning a new skill or trade are all activities that support better brain function.
  • Medical History: Certain pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. By properly managing these health conditions, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
  • Physical Exercise: Individuals who exercise regularly can lower their risk of Alzheimer’s by 50 percent. Exercise reduces insulin resistance, lessens inflammation and improves blood flow to the brain. For older individuals, walking, water aerobics and yoga are a safe and effective place to start.
  • Social Support: The power of building strong relationships is undeniable when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease. Social interaction helps strengthen communication skills, boosts brain activity and improves memory. All individuals should engage in social activities, whether it’s with family or in the community, to keep their minds sharp.

Care for the Caregiver

The physical and mental toll of Alzheimer’s goes beyond the individual who is suffering from the disease. Caregivers, especially those supporting a loved one independently for long periods of time, have a greater risk of depression and substance abuse. The National Center on Caregiving suggests that anyone experiencing the following symptoms seek help of their own:

  • Failure to exercise
  • Failure to stay in bed when ill
  • Poor eating habits
  • Putting off or avoiding personal medical appointments
  • Sleep deprivation

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Photo Credit: fo.ol

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