It’s OK to say it: Alzheimer’s is scary, and no one wants to consider the possibility of developing it. But like everything else that’s difficult in life, education is key. The more you know about Alzheimer’s, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with the disease if you or a loved one should develop it.
First, let’s rip off the Band-Aid and start with the difficult facts.
What You Should Know About Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only one among the top 10 that cannot currently be prevented, slowed or cured, according to research conducted by the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative.
It’s a harsh reality, sure, but one Jessica Langbaum, Ph.D. and principal scientist at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, says we need to face together. “Alzheimer’s shouldn’t be dismissed as a normal part of getting older,” she says.
The good news is that not all hope is lost. Doctors are researching ways to prevent Alzheimer’s onset with the goal of hopefully one day finding a cure.
Expert Tips from Langbaum and the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative:
- Mild memory loss – like forgetting where you put your keys – is a normal part of aging, but Alzheimer’s is not. The disease is the most common form of dementia, and a new case is diagnosed every 68 seconds. Today, more than 5.2 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s.
- While there are some very rare cases in which Alzheimer’s results from a genetic mutation, the biggest risk factor for developing the disease is old age. That means anyone can get Alzheimer’s. Langbaum says that 50 percent of adults over 90 have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
- Family history is another area of concern. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that those who have a parent, brother, sister or child with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop it. The risk is even greater if more than one family member has the illness.
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- One in nine Americans over age 65 – and nearly one in three Americans over 85 – is currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Approximately 3 percent of all cases are early onset, meaning the symptoms develop before age 65. Changes in your brain can begin up to 20 years before the related cognitive problems arise.
- Other health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure or cholesterol can increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. That’s why it’s important to keep your body and mind healthy with a balanced diet, exercise and plenty of social interaction.
- Right now, you can’t exactly order a test or scan from your doctor to determine your risk for Alzheimer’s, but there are a number of ways medical professionals track the disease. Changes in spinal fluid or your brain’s use of glucose, for example, speak to how your brain cells are functioning.
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- If you’re concerned about your own forgetfulness, speak with your doctor. For example, if you’re having trouble accomplishing basic tasks or forget important dates and things you would otherwise remember, it’s important to let a medical professional know. The sooner you detect any issues, the more time doctors have to intervene.
- Difficulty remembering new information is another hallmark of the illness because Alzheimer’s typically starts in the part of your brain that controls learning. More severe symptoms like disorientation, mood swings, confusion, suspicions about family and friends and issues speaking or walking develop later on.
- By 2050, it is expected that as many as 13.8 million people in the United States will be battling Alzheimer’s at a price of $1.2 trillion in national healthcare costs. We can do our part to prevent this by joining the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry, for example, which is free and open to participants 18 and older.
About the author:
Katarina Kovacevic is a freelance writer specializing in travel, spa, and beauty and wellness. She’s the author of The Food Lovers’ Guide To Phoenix & Scottsdale and founder/editor of Style Jaunt, a blog about fashionable travel. Her work has appeared in publications like American Spa, The Knot, The New York Post, SheKnows.com and more. Follow her on Twitter @Little_K.