November is Alzheimer’s Awareness month. As part of its ongoing effort to provide support for the aging population and caregivers, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center hosted a series of workshops devoted to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This article is based on a presentation by Kesstan Blandin, PhD, Dartmouth Centers for Health & Aging and Aleksandra Stark, MD Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center held on November 12, 2014.
Today, 5.4 million people in the U.S. have AD – by mid-century 11-16 million will have the disease.
- 90-95% of all cases of AD are late-onset (older than 65)
- 200,000-300,000 cases of Young-Onset AD (younger than 65)
- 13% of population 65 and older (1 in 8)
- Of the 5.4 million with AD:
o 4% are under 65
o 6% are 65 to 74
o 44% are 75 to 84
o 46% are 85 and older A Definition and Symptoms
- Short-term memory loss
- Withdrawal from conversations and activities
- Difficulties with familiar tasks (complex tasks)
- Difficulties organizing or planning
- Poor judgment
- Difficulties with word finding or speaking
- Difficulty with comprehension
- Visual-spatial deficits or problems diagnoses
Alzheimer’s in the Brain
The brain of a person with AD has abnormalities known as plaques and tangles. Plaques are abnormal clusters of the protein beta amyloid that build up between nerve cells and lead to cell death. Tangles are strands of a protein called tau, essential for maintaining cell structure, that mutate creating toxic tau and lead to cell destruction. A recent report on what gives some scientists hope for discovering a way to isolate and perhaps stop or slow cognitive decline may be heard here. (Toxic Tau Of Alzheimer’s May Offer A Path To Treatment)
Age is by far the biggest risk factor for AD. In addition, family history, lower socioeconomic status, lower education level, poor cardiovascular health conditions all increase the risk of AD.
Can We Do Anything?
There a some potentially modifiable risk factors associated with cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, or both that are worth addressing. They include
- Cognitive Inactivity
- Physical Inactivity
- Poor diet
Life-Style Strategies can make a difference and may help address the risks previously noted. Start with a heart healthy diet!
There is a growing number of researchers who have found there is a positive impact on people when they increase their mental and social activity. Social support and engagement reduces stress and has a positive impact on one’s quality of life. And mental engagement should include learning: what is something new I want to learn today, this week, this year? Learn new things, listen to music, engage.
There is a direct correlation between heart health and brain health. In addition to eating healthfully, consistent physical exercise is important too:
- Exercise reduces stress and blood pressure
- Exercise increases blood flow to the brain
- Exercise increases brain volume and neurogenesis
- Dancing, Yoga, Gardening, Walking, Swimming, anything that gets your heart pumping!
Consider exercising with friends and make it a social occasion as well. One of my most cherished times of the day is a morning outing with my wife—we have a cup of coffee and then head out for 30-50 minutes, enjoying the morning, each other’s company and moving! It is a great way to start the day and stay connected.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease. Following some of the steps suggested here may help delay the onset of AD.