YOUR HEALTH IS YOUR WEALTH – Alzheimer’s and dementia

by Dr. Ash Mina

WHAT IS IT?

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

BASIC INFORMATION

• Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. It accounts for 60 to 80 % of dementia cases.

• Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. Up to 5 % of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s, which often appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s.

• It is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from 4 to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.

• Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.

RISK FACTORS

• age: For example, while one of nine people age 65 or older has Alzheimer’s, nearly one of three people age 85 or older has the disease. One of the greatest mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease is why risk rises so dramatically as we grow older.

• family history: Those who have a parent, brother, sister or child with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease. When diseases tend to run in families, either heredity (genetics) or environmental factors, or both, may play a role.

• aluminium: During the 1960s and 1970s, aluminium emerged as a possible suspect in causing Alzheimer’s disease. This suspicion led to concerns about everyday exposure to aluminium through sources such as cooking pots, foil, beverage cans, antacids and antiperspirants. Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminium in causing Alzheimer’s. A few experts believe that everyday sources of aluminium pose any threat.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW: FACTORS YOU MAY BE ABLE TO INFLUENCE

head trauma: There may be a strong link between serious head injury and future risk of Alzheimer’s, especially when trauma occurs repeatedly or involves loss of consciousness. Protect your brain by buckling your seat belt, wearing your helmet when participating in sports, and “fall-proofing” your home. Learn more about traumatic brain injury.

heart-head connection: Growing evidence links brain health to heart health. Every heartbeat pumps about 20 to 25 % of your blood to your head, where brain cells use at least 20 % of the food and oxygen your blood carries.

• The risk of developing Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia appears to be increased by many conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol. Work with your doctor to monitor your heart health and treat any problems that arise.