Haims: It’s Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month
November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan designated November as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, much has changed. At that time, there were an estimated 2 million people in the United States afflicted with the disease.
In 2021, it was estimated that about 72% of people in America ages 75 and above are living with the most prevalent type of dementia — Alzheimer’s. Further, by 2030, there may be about 78 million Americans afflicted with all types of dementia.
Understanding and diagnosing the many different types of dementia is not clear-cut. And, according to The World Alzheimer’s report for 2021, “Up to 30% of people are actually misdiagnosed. This is why we urgently need better diagnostic systems.”
Emily Largent, PhD, JD, RN, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and Harvard Law School states, “Regrettably, older adults are often inadequately assessed for cognitive decline during primary care visits due to limitations on clinician time as well as lack of clinician expertise.”
Getting older is challenging, and often the effects of aging are not all that modifiable. But degenerative memory loss is somewhat controllable. A few of the things that can help degenerative memory loss are sleep, exercise and diet.
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Sleep deprivation may cause memory issues
Recent research has indicated that people who do not get proper sleep are more susceptible to concerns with memory and thinking. When people get quality deep sleep, evidence shows that the brain appears to cleanse waste products that increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent report published in Current Biology found that a lack of quality sleep may not only be a potential marker of future Alzheimer’s disease but also may increase the risk and the speed of progression of higher rates of β-amyloid accumulation and tau — proteins responsible for dementias and Alzheimer’s disease.
Many sleep disorders are modifiable, and people should speak to their medical providers about learning what can be done to promote better sleep. Those with sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, are at higher risk for dementia and should be concerned as the ability to remedy toxins from accumulating in the brain can be treated with CPAPs — masks to assist breathing — and supplemental oxygen.
Exercise and memory loss
As with all living creatures, the brain has a life cycle. While most of the cells within our brains were formed in vitro, the brain is capable of producing new brain cells. Our hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, learning and emotions, continues to create new cells as we age. This process is called neurogenesis.
Studies from the University of Edinburgh and UCLA’s School of Medicine have confirmed that exercise and increasing the oxygen levels of blood within the brain aid greatly in promoting healthy brain tissue and neurogenesis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2½-hours of moderate cardio and two days of muscle strengthening every week can greatly assist in in the decline of memory loss. Achieving this is not difficult, and it can be accomplished by breaking down an exercise regimen into 10- to 15-minute intervals twice a day. Walking, swimming/pool exercises, dancing and balance classes are all exercises that make you breathe faster, increase your heart rate and can keep you feeling and looking your best.
Diet and memory
While not always, many of our aging population don’t eat the best regular diet. Sometimes it may be due to a lack of interest, taste changes or even an absence of a desire to cook. As such, there is often a lack of variety and nutrients consumed.
Dietary habits and nutrition have been found to be important modifiable risk factors for many chronic diseases, but evidence on the role of diet and the risk of dementia is becoming more well founded.
As to be expected, diets high in cholesterol and fat are not only bad for your general health and heart, but research indicated that they may also promote the development of proteins that cause plaques to develop in the brain.
Vegetables, dark leafy greens, berries and fatty fish, like salmon, trout and albacore tuna, are known for their brain-protective qualities and abilities to aid in the development of neural connections.
Better brain health, and overall modification of life habits, all play important parts in mitigating dementias. Talk to your medical provider about what options are available to you that may promote better outcomes.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.