Most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 years of age and older. One in 10 people who is 65 years old and older has Alzheimer’s. After the age of 65 years old, the risk doubles every five years. Nearly one-third of people who are 85 years and older have Alzheimer’s. Doctors and researchers don't know the exact causes. They think it might be caused by one or more of these
- Age and family history
- Certain genes
- Abnormal protein deposits in the brain
- Exposure to aluminum, mercury and other heavy metals has been detected in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer’s. However, it isn’t known whether they cause Alzheimer’s or build up in the brain as a result of the disease.
- Immune system problems such as amyloidosis
- Chemical imbalances in the brain
- After decades of research, studies have reported compelling evidence that the condition may also be caused by a bacterium involved in gum disease. Multiple teams have been researching Porphyromonas gingivalis, the main bacterium involved in gum disease, which is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s. So far, teams have found that P. gingivalis invades and inflames brain regions and can worsen symptoms. Viruses that might cause the changes seen in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer’s are being also studied.
- Serious head injury and lower levels of education may also be risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
- Recent studies on dementia- and Alzheimer’s-related complications have revealed that women older than 60 years old are twice as likely to have dementia as men. In fact, the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s is understood to be greater than that of developing breast cancer. The exact reasons for this are unknown, but medical experts feel that the loss of estrogen hormone in women after menopause might be a contributing factor.
Several processes occur in Alzheimer’s
- Amyloid plaques: These are deposits outside brain cells. They prevent the brain from transmitting signals properly.
- Neurofibrillary tangles: These are deposits inside brain cells. They kill cells by preventing delivery of nutrients and energy, causing dementia that worsens over time.
- Neuronal death: This causes shrinking in the cortex (the outer layer of the brain) that is vital to memory, language and judgment. Alzheimer’s is characterized by this shrinkage.
In most cases, scientists are still unsure about what triggers the formation of plaques, tangles and other chemical changes associated with sporadic Alzheimer's.
- Alzheimer’s targets the outer part of the brain first, which is associated with learning and short-term memory.
- As the disease progresses deeper into the brain, other functions are affected, and symptoms get worse.
- For people with familial Alzheimer’s, mutations in three genes increase the production of amyloid plaques that damage the brain.
- In addition, there is evidence that risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, diabetes and obesity, may increase the risk of Alzheimer's.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s. Medications are available that can control symptoms for variable lengths of time. These medications cannot stop or slow the progression of the disease. They alter the level of neurotransmitters in the brain that help nerve cells communicate with one another. These medications will be prescribed if the physician believes it’s appropriate. They include
- Tons of evidence show that physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, with a new study finding that exercise slows Alzheimer’s even after the amyloid has begun to build up. US federal guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes of exercise or other movement a week, including both aerobic activity and muscle training.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits and healthy oils.
- Some older people will have to work to get adequate nutrition, whereas others will struggle to keep their weight under control.
Keep the brain active
- Improve brain skill by playing simple computer games.
- Studies have shown that mentally stimulating activities such as reading, using a computer, participating in social activities, playing games or doing crafts lowers the risk of mild cognitive impairment.
Reduce risk factors
- Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by addressing high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.
- What is good for the heart is good for the brain.
- Both quality and quantity sleep are increasingly being shown to be important for Alzheimer’s, although it’s not yet clear whether poor sleep in middle age and beyond is a cause of Alzheimer’s or one of its earliest symptoms.
The progression of Alzheimer’s is challenging to deal with. Each stage puts new demands and strains on people and their informal and professional caregivers. Education can help immensely throughout this process, so family members need to learn as much as they can about this condition, ask questions of medical professionals and seek out advice and support from other caregivers who have had first-hand experience with Alzheimer’s.
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