Many of you probably heard of Alzheimer's Disease, but do you know exactly what it is? Alzheimer's Disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly damages memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out everyday tasks. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases. Anyone can get Alzheimer's Disease, but certain people are at higher risk for it, like those who are 65 and older, and people with a family history of the condition. In most cases, people with Alzheimer's Disease get diagnosed after age 65, but if diagnosed before the age of 65, that is referred to as early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but there are treatments that can slow the disease's progression.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer's
Symptoms of Alzheimer's come on gradually, and the effects on the brain are progressive causing a slow decline. We know memory often changes as people grow older. But memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a normal part of aging. Friends and family are normally the first to see changes in loved one’s memory, behavior, or ability. While others, some notice changes in themselves before anyone else. If you notice one or more of these warning signs, it's time to see a neurologist. Early diagnosis can give you and your loved one a chance to seek treatment and plan for the future.
1. Is your memory loss disrupting daily life? Are you forgetting events, repeating yourself, or relying on more aids to help you remember (like sticky notes or reminders)?
2. Struggling to plan or solve problems? Are you struggling to pay bills or cook recipes you have used for years?
3. Having difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure? Are you having problems with cooking, driving places, using a cell phone, or shopping?
4. Often confused with time or place? Are you having trouble understanding an event that is happening later or losing track of dates?
5. Having trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations? Are you having more difficulty with balance or judging distance, tripping over things at home, or spilling or dropping things more often?
6. Noticing new problems with words in speaking or writing? Are you having trouble following or joining a conversation or struggling to find a word you are looking for (i.e., saying "that thing on your wrist that tells time" instead of "watch")?
7. Are you misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps? Do you find yourself misplacing car keys in odd places like the washer or dryer or not being able to retrace steps to find something?
8. Noticing decreased or poor judgment? Are you being a victim of a scam, not managing money well, paying less attention to hygiene, or having trouble taking care of a pet?
9. Having withdrawals from work or social activities? Do you find yourself not wanting to go to church or other activities as you usually do, not following sporting games, or keeping up with what's happening?
10. See changes in mood and personality? Do you easily get upset in ordinary situations or being fearful or suspicious?
Love Your Brain
While there are no proven Alzheimer's prevention strategies, there is growing evidence that indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting fundamental lifestyle habits, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Living a healthy lifestyle plays a significant role in your overall health. So why not learn a new habit or two? Know that it's never too late (or too early) to add new healthy habits into your daily life. Follow these ten ways to love your brain from the Alzheimer's Association:
1. Hit the books. Formal education will help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Take a class at a local college, community center, online.
2. Butt out. Smoking increases your risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
3. Follow your heart. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke–obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes–negatively impact your cognitive health.
4. Heads up! Brain injury can raise the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt and use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike.
5. Fuel up right. Eat a balanced diet that is higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
6. Catch some ZZZ's. Not getting enough sleep may result in problems with memory and thinking.
7. Take care of your mental health. Some studies link depression with cognitive decline, so seek treatment if you have depression, anxiety, or stress.
8. Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Find ways to be part of your local community or share activities with friends and family.
9. Stump yourself. Challenge your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Play games of strategy, like bridge.
10. Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates heart rate and increases blood flow. Studies have found that physical activity reduces the risk of cognitive decline.
Alzheimer's Disease can be caught in the early stages; that's why awareness of the warning signs is vital. If you or someone you know is experiencing memory or thinking problems, it is important to share these concerns with a neurologist. Effective communication with a specialist is essential when you are seeking a diagnosis for memory loss. Be sure to ask questions, be prepared to answer questions, and be as honest as possible. CapitalCare Neurology, located in Niskayuna, specializes in nerves and the nervous system and treats Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias. If you would like to schedule an appointment, call (518) 381-1800.