It’s an irreversible, progressive, and fatal disease which affects memory and the ability to think and reason.
In the early stages, a person may get lost and may have trouble handling money, completing daily tasks, expressing himself, and organizing his thoughts.
As the disease progresses, he may experience changes in behavior and personality and have problems recognizing family and friends. He may have hallucinations, delusions or paranoia.
In the late stages of the disease, he cannot communicate and is completely dependent on others for his care.
Take this Brain Tour
This excellent slide show by the Alzheimer’s Association shows how the brain works and how it is affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.
How many people are affected?
Estimates are that currently 5.3 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s Disease. Of those, 5.1 million are aged 65 or older. Another 200,000 people under the age of 65 have early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Because people are living longer these days, the number of people with Alzheimer’s Disease is projected to increase substantially over time.
What are the risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease?
The principal risk factor is age: The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease doubles every 5 years after age 65. After age 85, the risk is nearly 50%.
Other risk factors are high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and high cholesterol, family history, and genetics, specifically the APOE e4 gene mutation. This gene increases the risk that a person will get Alzheimer’s Disease but doesn’t determine for certain that she will.
But what actually causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists are not absolutely sure what causes cell death and tissue loss in the Alzheimer brain, but plaques and tangles are prime suspects.
Can you prevent or stave off Alzheimer’s Disease?
An enormous amount of energy, research, time, and money has gone into looking for ways to delay Alzheimer’s Disease or prevent it altogether. Out of this effort has come some support for the “Use it or lose it” approach, specifically, doing these things to stave off the onset of the disease:
Eating a healthful diet, such as the Mediterrean diet
Keeping physically active through regular exercise
Keeping socially active with friends and family, community groups, and others, and
Keeping mentally active, by doing cross-word puzzles, soduku, and computerized brain-fitness game
Do any of these things do any good?
That’s the $64 million question. Any of them may stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s Disesase. But, then again, they may not. How do we really know? Recently, at least three major studies have been done in an attempt to find the answer.
1. Study of “brain fitness” products by Lifespan
This meta-analysis (or review of all previous relevant, randomized, controlled studies) showed no evidence that “brain exercise” programs delay or slow progression of cognitive changes in healthy, elderly people .
2. Study by England’s Medical Research Council and Alzheimer’s Society UK
This study involved more than 11,000 people between the ages of 18 and 60 with the results published in the journal Nature on April 20, 2010. Said the lead author Adrian Owen, assistant director of the Medical Research Council,
Participants did get better at games they practiced. The more they trained, the better they got. But there was still no translation to any general improvement in cognitive function.
In other words, tests showed that their game scores improved but not their memory, reasoning or verbal abilities.
3. US National Institutes of Health (NIH) meta-analysis of studies published between 1984 and 2009
An independent expert panel—brought together by the NIH in April, 2010—issued a very bleak report on the state of knowledge of the disease. It concluded that the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are still unknown and that no reliable evidence has shown that anything can prevent the disease or stop it from progressing.
So, here’s my plan
I’ve been skeptical all along of the crossword-puzzle, soduku, use-it-or-lose-it approach to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. However, I’m something of a fanatic when it comes to eating healthy, physical activity, social activity, and mental activity (such as writing this blog post). I would be doing all these things with or without having some of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease. So my basic plan is to keep doing what I’ve been doing and hope for the best.
As always, I would really appreciate your thoughts, comments, questions, and suggestions.