What is it like when you begin to lose yourself, your control over your own thoughts, memories, and abilities? Those suffering from Alzheimer’s can tell.
Imagine how hard it is for relatives to see their once full-of-life husband, grandmother or great-grandfather fading away. What can be more frustrating than to see that the personality of the one you loved is gradually dying and instead existing as a creature not able to control their thoughts and emotions. As the disease progresses, people who suffer from Alzheimer’s experience changes in personality, become increasingly confused, withdraw from social activities, and eventually require total care. Alzheimer’s disease converts life into an existence deprived of all the beauties of life.
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects the brain. It is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-70% of cases. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International every 3 seconds, someone in the world develops dementia. Over 55 million people in the World are living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia in 2020. This is expected to reach 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease occupies a runner-up position in the list of brain killers after stroke. It is a condition that causes brain cells to die. The most common cause of this disease is dementia, which affects people’s thinking, behaviour, and social skills.
The true culprit of the disease is still not 100% known. But scientists tend to blame beta-amyloids. These are protein fragments that are naturally produced in our brains. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with a shift of such amyloids. When this change appears, beta-amyloids form plaques around brain cells. Due to this, the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) which transmit signals between brain cells decrease.
Alzheimer’s patients’ brains have low levels of one neurotransmitter. The brain shrinks in different areas over time. Most often, memory-related areas are affected first.
The biggest Issue with Alzheimer’s disease
The main issue about Alzheimer’s disease is that early symptoms are not usually paid enough attention to because it is nearly impossible for humans to notice small difficulties with memory, planning or organizing tasks, and language skills.
Because of not being noticed or taken seriously at the initial stages of development, the disease has all conditions to progress successfully and the treatment process usually starts after it has already developed for 10-15 years.
Main risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease
The risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases with age, and it is most common in people over 65.
Researchers have identified several genes that can increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The APOE-e4 gene is the most significant risk gene for Alzheimer’s, and it is estimated that between 40-65% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have this gene.APOE-e4 is one of three forms of the APOE gene, and people who inherit one copy from one parent have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, while those who inherit two copies from both parents have an even higher risk. APOE-e4 may also tend to cause symptoms of Alzheimer’s to appear at a younger age than usual.
Scientists have identified rare deterministic genes that cause Alzheimer’s disease in a small number of families around the world, accounting for approximately 1% or less of Alzheimer’s cases. These genes typically cause familial early-onset forms of the disease, with symptoms appearing between the early 40s and mid-50s.
Family history of the very condition does play the role in its development but hereditary genes that cause “familial Alzheimer’s” are quite rare. People who have a family history of Alzheimer’s may be at an increased risk, but it is still possible for someone without a family history to develop the disease.
Diabetes has been associated with a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Because diabetes makes our bodies unable to regulate insulin properly, it changes both the way our brain cells communicate and our memory function, both of which are impaired in Alzheimer’s disease.
Research shows that keeping our minds active can also help fight dementia. Activities such as word puzzles stimulate your brain and strengthen connections between brain cells which are broken down by dementia.
It has been found that individuals with lower education levels and fewer challenges for cognitive function on the regular basis are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A study of the brains of people with different educational backgrounds also found that those with higher education had heavier brains. You may be more resilient if your brain is heavier since you lose one-third of its weight due to dementia.
There is a link between the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (a form of dementia) and a higher body mass index. People with a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 which is considered normal have a lower dementia risk. As far you are from normal weight the more risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease you have.
Depression increases the level of harmful chemicals in our brains. An imbalance of these chemicals can lead to brain cell loss. This, along with the loss of brain cells in dementia, increases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease.
There is even a link between a number of depressive episodes and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, especially 10 years before the illness starts.
Long-lasting stress affects our body’s immune cells, which are important for preventing dementia. In particular, the hormone cortisol has been shown to contribute to stress and can affect memory. Thus, striving to reduce stress and cortisol levels may reduce the likelihood of developing dementia.
Main stages and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease consists of several stages of its development that vary according to the level of symptom severity. It is important to note that these stages are not always linear, and a person’s symptoms may fluctuate or progress at different rates.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a person may have mild memory problems and difficulty with tasks that require concentration or organization. These symptoms may not be noticeable to others, and the person may still be able to live independently and participate in social activities and work. However, close family and friends may notice these changes, and a doctor can use diagnostic tools to identify symptoms. Common difficulties at this stage may include:
forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects
having trouble remembering names when introduced to new people
experiencing difficulty performing tasks in social or work setting
forgetting material that has been just read
losing or misplacing valuable objects
having trouble with planning and organizing
The middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease is typically the longest and can last for several years. As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer’s will need a higher level of care. During this stage, the symptoms of are more pronounced and may include:
forgetfulness, moodiness or withdrawal
difficulty recalling personal information
confusion about time and place
difficulty with clothing selection
trouble with bladder and bowel control
changes in sleep patterns
wandering and getting lost
personality and behavioral changes
In the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms of dementia are severe. The person with Alzheimer’s may lose the ability to respond to their environment, communicate, and control movement. They may also experience significant personality changes and require extensive care. At this stage a person might:
need for around-the-clock assistance with daily personal care
lose of awareness of recent experiences and surroundings
have changes in physical abilities such as walking, sitting, and swallowing
experience difficulty communicating
be more vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia
reflexes may become abnormal and muscles may become rigid.
Five healthy habits to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Unfortunately, medication that can cure and not just manage Alzheimer’s disease symptoms has not yet been discovered. However, there is good news: several studies have demonstrated that lifestyle habits can help modify many risk factors.
Here are some good and easy-to-implement habits that will significantly drop the risk of Alzheimer’s.
1Eat a diet rich in plants
Certain fruits and veggies have been proven to positively affect Alzheimer’s and cognitive function. Let’s take a closer look at plants that may help to prevent and ease symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Berries positively affect cognitive function
Blueberries are proven to have a positive effect on cognitive function. A study followed the diets and health of 16,000 women. The results show that women who consumed one serving of blueberries and two servings of strawberries a week have a slower rate of cognitive decline by 2.5 years in comparison to those who did not eat berries. A simple step of eating a handful of berries every day can be hugely beneficial for your brain health.
Grapes protect you from plaques and tangles
Polyphenols are active ingredients that belong to the class of powerful brain-accessing antioxidants. Purple grapes and cranberries are packed with polyphenols.
Polyphenols have been shown to offer protection for nerve cells. They act by inhibiting the formation of plaques and tangles which are typical features of Alzheimer’s pathology. They could also be used to help lessen the number of metals that accumulate in specific brain areas, like those that are most commonly affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Saffron as a medical treatment without side effects
A spice derived from the crocus flower, saffron, has been found in trials to help reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms. During a 22-week study, saffron showed itself equally effective at treating Alzheimer’s symptoms as the leading drug.
Unfortunately, working as well as the medicine does not say much, but at least the person doesn’t have to risk the drug’s side effects, typically nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
2Exercise to reduce cognitive decline
It is well-known that exercise is good for the body. But did you know that it’s also good for the brain? That’s right – according to recent research, exercising can positively affect the cognitive function of the brain. In fact, exercise has been shown to stop cognitive decline in its tracks.
Researchers took a group of people with mild cognitive impairment — those who begin to forget things or repeat themselves — and had them do aerobic exercise for forty-five to sixty minutes a day, four days a week, for six months. The control group was instructed to simply stretch for the same amount of time.
The researchers found that the cognitive function of the group that did the stretching continued to decline. But the training group not only did not get worse but in fact improved.
MRI scans have shown that aerobic exercise can actually reverse age-related shrinkage of the brain’s memory centres. Aerobic exercise can help improve cerebral circulation, and memory, and preserve brain tissue.
According to a study on ageing and dementia that included 1,500 Finns, people who exercised at least twice a week had half the risk of developing dementia and 60% less risk of Alzheimer’s disease than those who remained sedentary.
So if you are looking for a way to keep your brain in tip-top shape, hit the gym, go for a jog, take a spin class, or go for a swim. Any type of exercise that gets your heart pumping is likely to give your cognitive function a boost.
3Sleep enough to reduce dementia risk
A regular sleeping pattern is not only beneficial for our memory function but can also reduce the risk of dementia which serves as a starting point for Alzheimer’s disease development.
One study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School examined the connection between the amount of sleep and the risk of dementia development of 2,800 participants. Sleeping less than five hours a night doubled the likelihood of developing dementia as well as dying compared to sleeping six to eight hours a night.
Another study examined 8,000 participants and found that sleeping less than 6 hours was associated with a 30% increase in dementia risk in comparison to a 7-hour sleep.
One should keep in mind that inadequate sleep raises the risk of dementia. Shift work, insomnia, caregiving responsibilities, anxiety, and pressing deadlines are among the causes of poor sleep in middle age. For this reason, if you are currently only sleeping four to five hours every night due to your long work hours, you may want to change your habits before retiring, otherwise, dementia may develop.
4One glass a day will keep cognitive decline away
Besides all the detrimental influences of alcohol, it may have a protective effect on cognitive performance. Several studies show that moderate drinkers perform better on cognitive tests than non-drinkers, and this may be partly explained by alcohol-induced increases in good cholesterol (HDL) and decreases in other thrombotic factors.
Over the course of more than two decades, the Nurses Health Study followed 12,000 nurses aged 70 to 81 on their dietary, health, and cognitive patterns. It was found that participants who drank up to 15 grams of alcohol per day had better cognitive scores than those who did not drink. Compared with women who do not drink alcohol regularly, those who drink one drink per day had a 20% lower risk of cognitive decline.
Healthhack from Healthypedia
We do not promote alcohol consumption but truth be told, one small glass of wine with 15 grams of alcohol reduces the risk of AD by 20%.
5Add Omega-3 to improve cognitive function
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential components for the nervous system. They play an important role in brain development and possess neuroprotective properties. The consumption of fish as the main source of omega-3 fatty acids has been suggested by several studies.
According to research, omega-3 fatty acids decrease amyloid formation, minimize plaque formation, and increase amyloid clearance in Alzheimer’s disease.
One study, with 7 years of follow-ups, showed that consumption of at least one serving of fish or seafood on daily basis leads to a 44% lower risk of developing dementia.
The Chicago Health and Aging Project found that consuming at least one serving of fish a week reduced the risk of AD by 60% after a four-year follow-up.
Make sure to add rich Omega-3 products to your diet, these are salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. The consumption of these will improve your cognitive function.
How to keep Alzheimer’s disease away
Alzheimer’s disease is a real venom for both those who suffer from it and their families and friends. The biggest problem is that it is practically unrecognisable until it is too late. The disease affects nearly 55 million people on the planet and this number is growing every single year. The good thing is that even with a lack of efficient medication you may protect yourself and your loved ones by taking on the healthy choices mentioned in the very article. So start today with small changes because tiny steps lead to giant leaps!
Not enough? Here is more from our colleagues
If you want to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, we recommend you read the book ‘How not to die’ by Michael Greger. Not only it provides insight into preventing and dealing with Alzheimer’s and other severe conditions but also offers tips on having a healthy lifestyle that can protect you from diseases and premature death. The very article is inspired by this book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to improve their overall health and longevity.
A mix of Mediterranean and D.A.S.H (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diets has been proven to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more with this video.
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