What you need to know about Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
Aging might be the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease, but the disease is not a normal part of aging.
Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia, causes plaques and other processes to kill neurons in the brain, causing memory loss, problems with judgment, language and behavior, said Dr. Jeannine S. Benson, Internal Medicine physician and Primary Care Chief at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Office. “These changes are not reversible,” she said.
The risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease doubles every five years after the age of 65, according to the National Institute on Aging. There is no way to fully prevent Alzheimer’s, but practicing and maintaining healthy habits, including a healthy weight, balanced diet and regular physical daily exercise, can help slow the disease’s progress.
Evidence shows that at least 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise three to four days per week can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, according to Harvard Medical School. Getting enough sleep, 7 to 8 hours per night, and eating a Mediterranean diet — which is high in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, nuts, legumes, fish, with moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, dairy and red wine — can also help slow the disease’s progression. “It is also important to use your brain,” Benson said. “Keeping social, mentally active and engaged is important.”
Alzheimer’s varies from person to person, with some cases progressing slowly over time and others advancing quickly. While age is the biggest risk factor, other risks include diabetes, high blood pressure, head trauma and high cholesterol, Benson said.
Memory loss is an early sign of Alzheimer’s, with more recent memories becoming most impaired. Benson said a person with early Alzheimer’s may be able to tell a detailed story about something that happened 30 years ago, but cannot remember what they ate for breakfast this morning.
“A person with Alzheimer’s may also seem unorganized and unable to multitask when they previously were able to,” she said. “If these signs are recognized, the it is important to see a physician to rule out other possible causes of memory issues.”
Benson said that during advanced stages, some patients can even develop psychological problems like paranoia, aggression, delusions and hallucinations.
“I encourage any individual with Alzheimer’s and their family meet regularly with their doctor for guidance on what to expect and ways we can help some of these symptoms,” she said.
Benson said there are some medications available for Alzheimer’s treatment, but there can be significant side effects. There are no medications proven to stop the disease or reverse its effects. “Working with your physician is important to decide on the best course,” she said.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends developing effective coping strategies that help patients remain engaged and active, respond to challenges that help maximize independence, and gain a sense of control over their lives.
It’s also important to accept help from others. While it might feel like a loss of independence to ask for help, getting help when it’s needed could actually help Alzheimer’s sufferers maintain their independence in the long run, according to the association.