Certain words let us know instantly that life will never be the same. At the age of 32, when a doctor uttered the words ‘brain tumor” to me, I knew my life was changing in a way I had never considered. For some, its the “C” word aka “cancer”, for others its the “A” word, “Alzheimer’s”.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s affects a growing number of people. Sadly, a growing number of my clients are in the early, mid and end stages. When a person calls and tells me their loved one has died, I’ve never found the right words to say. When a client tells me they’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I’m at a complete loss of words.
There are several factors known to play a role in Alzheimer’s. Let’s look at these factors both positive and negative.
Age is one of the biggest factors to consider when discussing Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms generally begin for most after the age of 65. However, the proteins that damage the brain can begin taking a toll on the patient well before symptoms appear. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that after the age of 65, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years. While Alzheimer’s disease is typically associated with old age, early onset Alzheimer’s disease does occur in some people, although it is less common.
Another factor associated with Alzheimer’s disease is genetics. Although family history is not necessary for a person to develop Alzheimer’s, a person with a parent or a sibling with Alzheimer’s disease is at greater risk of developing the disease. If more than one first-degree relative (meaning a person’s parent, sibling or child) has Alzheimer’s, the person is at even greater risk.
There are specific genes that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. If a person receives a gene from one parent they are at risk, and genes from both parents increases that risk. Although these genes can determine risk of developing the disease they do not determine that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. In some rare cases, there are deterministic genes that guarantee a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease. There are genetic tests which can identify risk genes and deterministic genes for Alzheimer’s. A person can elect to have these tests to determine their risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Lifestyle can be a great factor in helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that aspects of a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Healthy eating (boy I’m glad I cut down on my French Fries), exercise (I’ve got to improve on this), and sleep are some lifestyle factors that can be preventative medicine for Alzheimer’s. Exercise can help to increase blood and oxygen flow in the brain and eating a heart healthy diet also shows great benefit. In addition, strong social connections have been shown to be a preventative factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Remaining mentally active can also help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Lifestyle is one factor everyone has control over and can go a long way in slowing or preventing Alzheimer’s.
There are other factors that can determine whether or not Alzheimer’s takes hold or not. Socioeconomic factors can determine whether Alzheimer’s takes hold. Recent research suggests that the more higher-level education a person has, the less likely that person is to develop Alzheimer’s. Head trauma earlier in life can put a person at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Race and ethnicity have also been shown to play a role in risk for Alzheimer’s disease. African Americans and Hispanics are at a greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease according to research. Gender also plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Research indicates that because women are likely to live longer than men, they are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Although we know some of the factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease, there are still many mysteries surrounding it. There is no known cure for the disease and treatments can only slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. With this information, it is important to take control of the risk factors you are able to and be fully aware of early warning signs. Being armed with good information can help to slow or prevent Alzheimer’s from taking hold.
If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.