Understanding the Risk Factors of Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the National Institute on Aging, over five million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder that silently robs an individual of their memory and ability to think clearly . It is an irreversible disease in which the brain cells slowly degenerate and eventually die.
Symptoms generally begin to appear during a person’s 60s and may first be shrugged off as mild confusion or simple forgetfulness. Over time, symptoms progress and the individual may experience dramatic changes in personality and even lose recognition skills. They may not know or even remember important people in their lives. It is important for family members and loved ones to understand that they have not stopped caring, but that the disease has robbed them of their memories.
Age, genetics, and personal health all play a part in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but these factors by no means indicate that an individual will one day suffer from it. While there is no definite indication that one will develop the disease someday, there are several risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease .
There is no doubt that the greatest risk factor associated with Alzheimer’s is advancing age. While the disease is not a normal part of aging, the risk of developing it increases after the age of 65. Some individuals with rare genetic changes may even experience early-onset Alzheimer’s in their 30s.
Family History and Genetics
The risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases slightly if a parent or sibling has or has had the disease. While there is no sure-fire method to predict if you will develop the disease, scientists have uncovered mutations in three specific genes that seem to be a good indication that you will develop Alzheimer’s. However, these rare mutations only make up less than five percent of Alzheimer’s diagnoses.
A large amount of people who have Down Syndrome eventually develop Alzheimer’s as they age. Often, symptoms will appear in those with Down Syndrome approximately 10 to 20 years sooner than in those without it. A gene that is present in the extra chromosome of those with Down Syndrome greatly increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The incidence of Alzheimer’s is higher in women than men. This, in part, is due because women generally have a greater longevity than men. However, this does not fully explain why there are approximately twice as many women as there are men with the disease. One theory is that women are at a greater risk due to the lack of oestrogen after menopause.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
People with MCI, or mild cognitive impairment, experience cognitive decline that can be considered worse than what should be expected for their age. However, this decline is not great enough to be diagnose as Alzheimer’s or dementia. While those with MCI are at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s, it is not a definitive factor.
Past Head Trauma
Past head trauma can be a result of an accident, surgery, a skull fracture, or a number of other things. If you have experienced significant head trauma in the past, you are at a slightly greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
Lifestyle and Heart Health
While there is no definitive lifestyle factor shown to increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, evidence suggests some of the same lifestyle factors that can put you at a greater risk for heart disease may also increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s as you age.
Some examples of these factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Lack of exercise
- Smoking and second-hand smoke exposure
- High blood cholesterol
- A diet lacking a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables
- Type 2 diabetes that is poorly controlled
If you currently experience any of these lifestyle factors, you may be at a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Working with your doctor or other healthcare professional to reduce or eliminate these risk factors can not only help protect your heart, but it may also help to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s as you get older.
Lifelong Learning and Social Engagement
Some studies have revealed a connection between mental and social stimulation and a lowered risk of Alzheimer’s. Individuals with less than a high school education appear to be at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
In the beginning stages, you may only notice slight confusion or an increase in forgetfulness. The disease steadily robs you of more and more of your memory as time goes by, however. The rate of progression of Alzheimer’s varies with each person. A person with Alzheimer’s may be the first to recognize the symptoms. On the other hand, changes may be noticeable to others while the individual with Alzheimer’s never notices it.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
- A loss of memory that begins to affect everyday life
- Confusion and challenges in solving problems or making routine plans
- Difficulty performing and completing routine activities
- Confusion about time, place, dates, or seasons
- Visual problems related to spatial relationship and colors
- Struggling to find words
- Repeating themselves
- Misplacing items and not being able to retrace their steps
- Poor judgment with money
- A decline in grooming habits
- Withdrawal from society
- Personality changes 
Currently, some Alzheimer’s disease management strategies and medications can improve symptoms on a temporary basis, but there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Medications and coping methods may let some Alzheimer’s patients maintain their independence and ability to function for a little longer, but it is important to seek out supportive services as soon as you can after learning you or a loved one has this mind-robbing disease.
Here are some treatments for Alzheimer’s .
Current medications used to treat Alzheimer’s can help for a time, but the disease will eventually take over. Two types of drugs currently used to treat the disease and help slow down memory loss are Cholinesterase inhibitors and Memantine.
As with all drugs, there are some possible side effects. Side effects may include sleeplessness, agitation, depression, nausea, loss of appetite, constipation, headache, dizziness, and other side effects that should be discussed with a medical professional. Other medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to help relieve some symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
A Safe and Supportive Environment
One of the most important parts of treating a person with Alzheimer’s is to create an environment in which they feel safe and secure. As the disease progresses, minimizing the need to perform tasks that demand memory recall can make life easier for all involved. Establishing routine habits early in the diagnosis can help with this. Discuss other methods of creating a secure environment with a healthcare professional early in the disease.
A regular exercise routine is important for everyone, but it is especially important for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. What can a simple exercise like a daily walk do? It can:
- Improve mood
- Maintain joint, heart, and muscle health
- Promote restful sleep
- Prevent constipation
If a person with Alzheimer’s goes out alone on a daily walk, make sure they carry identification. An identification and medical alert bracelet are a good idea. If a person with Alzheimer’s eventually develops trouble walking, chair exercises should still be performed in an effort to keep up a steady exercise routine.
Nutrition is also an important aspect of Alzheimer’s treatment. People with the disease may forget to eat or drink, lose interest in cooking, or not eat healthy meals. It is vital to make sure they are eating and drinking properly to maintain health. Work out a nutrition and meal routine with a medical professional or nutrition specialist.
The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is quickly escalating. Currently, an estimated 5.7 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. About 200,000 of these individuals have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and are under the age of 65. Today, someone in America is diagnose with Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. If a solution is not found soon, this number could increase to every 33 seconds.
- U.S Depatment of Health & Human Services. “Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet.” National Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 17 Aug. 2016, www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Alzheimer’s Disease.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 30 Dec. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447.
- Alzheimer’s Association Staff. “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s.” Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Association, 2018, www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs.
- Mayo Clinic, Staff. “Alzheimer’s Disease.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 30 Dec. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350453.