This November, we are reminded about the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the United States. Today, more than 5 million Americans are living with the disease and the number is expected to triple over the next few decades.
As we get older, the development of Alzheimer’s may become a heightened concern, possibly more so if there is a known family history of the disease. While you may have been told that all you can do is wish for the best or wait for a proven cure; there are many ways that you can actually reduce your risk.
While there is no guaranteed method to avoid an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, simple and effective healthy lifestyle changes can help counteract symptoms of the disease and slow down, or even reverse the process of deterioration.
Caring.com discusses 7 important truths surrounding Alzheimer’s disease. By simply becoming aware of these facts, we can improve our understanding of this disease and help to reduce the Alzheimer’s problem.
- Alzheimer’s is generally detected at the end-stage of the disease. On average, Alzheimer’s follows a 14-year course from onset of the first symptoms until death. Surprisingly, on average we diagnose Alzheimer’s in years 8-10 of that disease course; meaning that for most patients, symptoms go undiagnosed and untreated for at least 7 years.
- Memory loss is not a part of normal aging. There are many contributing factors to why Alzheimer’s is diagnosed so late but most can be reduced through awareness and education. Some patients resist medical attention in the early stages because they are misinformed to believe that Alzheimer’s cannot be treated. In addition, a startling number of medical professionals incorrectly believe that memory loss is a normal part of aging. Improving the timeliness of diagnoses for Alzheimer’s is, in many ways, a problem that can be addressed through awareness and education.
- Current Alzheimer’s drugs are probably more effective than you think. The widespread practice of late detection has many negative consequences. With earlier intervention, treatment can be administered to patients with healthier brains, many of whom will respond more vigorously to the recommended therapy. Please remember that “having no cure” does not mean “there is no treatment.”
- Alzheimer’s disease can be treated. Preventing or slowing further brain damage is preferable to letting the damage spread without constraint. Yet, many conclude that any treatment short of a cure is not worthwhile. What they may not realize is that with a good diet, physical exercise, social engagement, and certain drugs, many patients (especially those detected at an early stage) can meaningfully alter the course of Alzheimer’s and preserve their quality of life.
- The Alzheimer’s drug pipeline is full. Over the past two decades, scientists have gained a lot of insight about Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms and other factors that increase the risk for the disease. Much has been learned and some very promising drugs, based on sound theoretical approaches, are in FDA clinical trials right now.
- Taking good care of your heart will help your brain stay healthy. The health of your brain is very closely tied to the health of your body, particularly your heart. Research shows that high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity all confer greater risk for cognitive decline. The mechanisms that keep oxygen-rich blood flowing through your body play a key role in maintaining a healthy brain. Everyone should be aware about the close association between vascular health and cognitive health.
- Managing risk factors may delay or prevent cognitive problems later in life. Certain risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are within our power to manage such as diabetes, head injuries, smoking, poor diet, lethargy, and isolation. With greater awareness of these facts, we can imagine a world where healthier life-style choices are made and additional precautions are taken.