Alzheimer’s is a brain disease and the most common cause of dementia. It typically involves the loss of memory and other cognitive abilities.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Today, there are 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s.
While scientists don’t fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, there are preventative measures and tips available. Hear from Scott Vota, DO, FAAN, a neurologist at Bon Secours, on facts about the disease as well as ways to protect your brain.
What you can do now
Age is a major risk factor when it comes to Alzheimer’s as the majority of those affected are age 65 and older. Other risk factors include smoking, diabetes and cardiovascular issues.
“What individuals do now can potentially have a significant impact on their brain health later in life,” says Dr. Vota. “Emerging evidence suggests that increasing physical activity, continuing cognitive stimulating activity, having a healthy diet and not smoking can help brain health later in life.”
Some “healthy brain activities” to incorporate into your daily life include:
- Exercise regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Performing cognitive stimulating activities - puzzles, crossword games, chess, etc.
- Managing heart disease, diabetes and blood pressure
- Avoiding brain injuries and concussions
- Wearing a seatbelt and helmet
- Eating well
- Not smoking
Signs and symptoms
The main initial sign of Alzheimer’s disease is forgetting recent events and memories. Examples include misplacing items around the house and forgetting what you need at the store.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these are the top 10 early signs and symptoms:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgement
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
“It is important to recognize early signs and symptoms and discuss them with your doctor,” says Dr. Vota. “There may be other medical conditions which could be causing the memory concerns and those could be treated.”
Dr. Vota also adds that while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are medications available that can help slow the progression. The earlier these medications are started, the more impact they can have on an individual’s quality of life.
Support for caregivers
Alzheimer disease effects more than the individuals that suffer from it. The disease also effects the loved ones around them as many of them end up becoming caregivers.
More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Along with caregiving duties, loved ones are typically put in charge of other responsibilities too including paying bills and legal responsibilities.
Caregiver burnout is a reality. Making sure caregivers for Alzheimer patients receive proper support is very critical.
“It is important for caregivers to seek support and ensure his/her well-being,” says Dr. Vota. “The physical and emotional toll of caring for an individual with dementia can be great.”
If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, talk to your doctor about available support. Most hospitals either host or can recommend support groups and have helpful information on how to best find support.
Learn more about the neuroscience services provided at Bon Secours.