Living with Alzheimer’s is a profoundly tragic experience that no one should have to endure. But unfortunately, it’s the 7th leading cause of mortality for adults in the US.
What could make such a calamitous disease easier to grapple with? Getting a better understanding of what we actually know for fact about Alzheimer’s. By acquiring the ability to identify early signs of Alzheimer’s and fortifying our cognitive capacities in the present, we can diminish the risk associated with the disease.
Facts About Living with Alzheimer’s Disease: What We Know
Amidst the vast realm of uncertainty surrounding Alzheimer’s, proven knowledge can offer peace of mind. So what do we really know about this disease?
It’s a Progressive Disease
Alzheimer’s gets gradually more severe and noticeable. The person afflicted loses more and more of their cognitive abilities, functionality, and identity as time goes on. What starts off as forgetfulness becomes an inability to complete tasks on one’s own.
Caused by Dying Cells
The killing off of brain cells is an inevitable part of Alzheimer’s progression. The cells, most of which are neurons, start to degenerate until you lose them completely. So in the most constructive way possible, let’s explain how this happens:
- Brain tissues shrink: This is particularly prevalent in the areas of the brain that have to do with emotion, cognition, and memory. Because you lose so many neurons (aka cells that use electrical and chemical signals to communicate with the rest of your body), the rest of the cells in your brain start to atrophy.
- Plaque and tangles form: One of the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is the formation of beta-amyloid proteins in your brain. These small pieces of protein can form clumps that disrupt your brain’s functioning and cause cell death. Neurofibrillary tangles also form inside the brain when you have Alzheimer’s. This creates twisted strands of tau protein that also interrupt neuron functioning.
- Inflammation occurs: When these disruptive proteins form in your brain, inflammatory molecules are released. This can magnify the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Proven Risks for Alzheimer’s
Like with most diseases, the elderly are at highest risk for Alzheimer’s. As are people with high cholesterol, diabetes, or other heart and blood vessel-related conditions. Having the apolipoprotein E 4 (APOE4) gene, which is a variation of a protein-making gene, is one of the greatest contributors to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Inactivity, poor diet, smoking, and lack of mental and social stimulation are also major contributors.
Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease: What to Look Out For
As we’ve established, Alzheimer’s disease is progressive and starts with simple memory loss. The disease may involve forgetting conversations, neglecting to show up for appointments, habitually misplacing important items, losing one’s concept of time and space, and being oblivious to things all around oneself. All of this sounds pretty typical for the average person, right? Unfortunately, these forgetful incidents become more serious over time.
Common activity of a person with Alzheimer’s may include:
- Trouble planning and staying organized
- Confusion or feeling lost in places that were once familiar
- Mood swings
- Needing assistance to complete daily tasks
- Inability to recognize familiar faces
In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, major cognitive and physical abilities are lost. It can become a challenge to talk, dress, eat, or bathe on one’s own. This can make a person vulnerable to other health complications and infections such as malnutrition, dehydration, UTIs, or pneumonia.
3 Helpful Ways to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Here are some tips for decreasing your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease:
Exercising Your Body, Mind, and Spirit
With Alzheimer’s, staying mentally fit is just as important as staying physically fit. Do activities that challenge your intellect and exercise different parts of your brain. Reading about new topics, doing puzzles like Sudoku, or challenging yourself to learn a new language all help ward off memory loss.
Isolation is a major contributor to Alzheimer’s. So frequent social interaction with family and friends is majorly beneficial. As is making new friends through social clubs and volunteering. Widening your circle and getting to know a diverse community of people can do wonders in keeping your mind stimulated.
Manage Your Health and Wellness
As we’ve established, Alzheimer’s risk goes up with diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. So it’s important to keep these conditions under control if you want to decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s. Take your medicine, get plenty of sleep, attend all appointments, and keep up with all the healthy lifestyle habits that your doctor has recommended for treating your condition.
Optimize Your Diet
Certain foods have the potential to either greatly benefit or detrimentally affect Alzheimer’s disease. Saturated and trans fats, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods have been associated with cognitive decline. So to maximize your memory-retaining brain, try these instead:
- Fatty fish: Mackerel, trout, salmon, sardines, and tuna have lots of omega-3 fatty acids. This means they have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce plaque buildup in your brain.
- Leafy greens: Collard greens, kale, and spinach contain nutrients like folate, vitamin K, and vitamin E that may reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
- Nuts and seeds: Flaxseeds, chia seeds, almonds, and walnuts are full of healthy fats and vitamin E, both of which can improve brain health.
- Whole grains: Quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat help sustain energy levels and maximize cognitive function.
- Berries: Strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries are rich in antioxidants and can protect your brain from oxidative stress and inflammation—two major contributors to Alzheimer’s disease.
Finding Hope in the Face of Alzheimer’s
Dealing with Alzheimer’s, whether personally or with a loved one, is undeniably challenging. But by embracing the realities of living with the condition and adopting preventive measures, you can navigate this journey more harmoniously.
It’s vital to keep your mind engaged, cultivate fulfilling social connections, and maintain regular check-ups with your primary care provider. These check-ups can help identify potential health issues that may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, allowing you to develop a proactive plan to prevent it.