Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive neurological disorder which is caused by the death of brain cells that leads to cognitive decline and memory loss. There is no known cure for this disease and the situation worsens as time passes by which eventually causes death. The disease derives its name from the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer, who first described it. At present, approximately 44 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia worldwide and by 2030 it will increase to 76 million approximately. It is most commonly diagnosed in people over 65 years of age and the average life expectancy after diagnosis is 7 years.
Although the exact causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s is not yet known, we know that it is mainly caused by genetic disorders, an unhealthy life style and external environmental factors. Less than 5% of cases are due to genetic changes. The main reason for dementia and Alzheimer’s is rapid brain cell death which reduces the connectivity among the brain cells thus leading to brain shrinkage. However, Abnormal amounts of plaques and tangles are commonly found in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients which plays a role in worsening the condition.
These plaques are composed of protein beta-amyloid that deposits outside the brain cells and reduce the effectiveness of the brain cells or neurons in transferring messages to and from the brain.
Tangles or tau tangles are threads of tau protein. Tau protein is required by the brain cells to support the transportation of nutrients. But these protein threads twist in to tangles in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients that hinder the flow of messages from the brain and leads to death of brain cells.
The early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s develop gradually and are often mistaken as “age-related” issues and it can go undiagnosed for several years. But be aware if you identify any of these symptoms among your loved ones.
This the most common sign of Alzheimer’s that is often mistaken as age related problem. People tend to forget where they had placed their important items, forget names of family members, get lost in familiar places, ask for the same information over and over, and keep forgetting important events and dates.
People affected by Alzheimer’s tend to alienate themselves from their favorite activities, hobbies and interests because they face problem in carrying them out. They withdraw from family gatherings, dates with friends and social activities.
People affected by Alzheimer’s face confusion about date, passage of time and seasons. This is because they fail to keep track of time and can’t understand things that are not happening in front of them. They might get lost in familiar places and have no clue of how they got there and how to go home.
Mood swings which begin with occasional depression and sadness can gradually turn to violent phases of rage, crying and anger without any reason. They become upset easily and are always fearful, anxious, confused or depressed. This is caused by the chemical changes in brain as a result of the disease and the gradual loss of cognitive abilities.
Onset of Alzheimer’s also makes people forget entire conversations. They might stop abruptly at the middle of a conversation and have no clue about what to say. They face difficulty staying on the topic which leads to increased frustration. They might have problem finding the right words and might face trouble in explaining a thought or concept.
Although there are no medications to cure the disease or reverse it progression, certain changes in the life style and a healthy diet can help in reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and slowing down its progression.
The most important preventive measure to minimize the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s is to nourish the brain and keep it healthy with essential nutrients. This can be done by increasing the intake of antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals through fruits, vegetables, fish and dairy. Eat lots of whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Green leafy and brightly colored vegetables and berries are especially helpful in maintaining and improving cognitive functions. Load up on omega 3 with cold water fish such as tuna, mackerel, trout and sardine. Also include 3 to 4 cups of green tea in your daily diet. The benefits of green tea antioxidants are numerous.
It is extremely important to keep your body up and running in order to reduce the risk of dementia. Research shows that regular physical activity cuts out the risk of Alzheimer’s by almost 50% and also helps in slowing down the progress of the disease in persons already affected. Plan out an exercise regime that suites you and stick to it religiously. Try to do at least 30 minutes of cardio exercises such as brisk walking or swimming 4 to 5 times a week. It not only pumps up the heart rate and improves cardiovascular health, but also aids in proper functions of the brain.
Recent research has shown that one can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the risk of heart diseases. Researchers have found a link between brain and heart health and some of the factors such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and excess body weight that lead to heart disease may also push up the risk of Alzheimer’s. Therefore, it is important to keep the cardiovascular system healthy and prevent chronic diseases through a healthy diet and regular exercise.
People tend to avoid social activities, social gatherings and friends as they age and this also affects the brain because human beings are social creatures and human brain cannot thrive in isolation. Therefore, make it a point to stay connected with family and friends, develop new connections, talk to loved ones over phone frequently, spend time with neighbors and join a club.
Learning new things or playing strategy games such as chess, cross word puzzles, scrabble and Sudoku stimulates the brain and keeps it active and reduces the risk of cognitive decline. Learning new things like a musical instrument or taking up a new hobby keeps throwing fresh challenges to the brain and keeps it active.
The importance of sleep for our health needs no new emphasis. One of the worst outcomes of present hectic life style is sleep deprivation that not only results in stress, bad mood and tiredness, but might lead to declined cognitive functions as a long term result. Therefore, it is important to get at least 8 hours of unhindered, restful sleep on a daily basis. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day in order to keep the circadian rhythm consistent. Relax your senses and take a hot bath before going to bed.
Excessive production of insulin by the pancreas has negative effects on the brain. The secretion of insulin can be managed by keeping blood sugar levels under control and avoiding the consumption of refined sugar and high glycemic foods such as white flour bread, white flour pasta and white rice. Consume complex carbohydrate with low glycemic index instead such as oats, whole grains, brown rice, vegetables and fruits that take time to break down, thus preventing sudden fluctuation in blood sugar levels.
Yet another negative aspect of modern life style is stress. Stress can be at work or due to personal problems but chronic stress and anxiety can have disastrous effects on the brain, specifically hippocampus, which hinders the growth of brain cells and increases the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Try to control stress and bring about inner peace through meditation and relaxing exercises like Tai-chi.
Bring about these healthy changes in your life style and make your loved ones aware about this disease and its preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
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