Know the warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. Strategies for its prevention include a healthy diet, social interaction, and brain exercise and protection.
“Honey, have you seen my keys?” It’s not uncommon to misplace items from time to time. What is uncommon and not part of the normal aging process is not knowing how to use your keys.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive, degenerative brain disease that involves both the buildup of amyloid plaque outside brain cells and abnormal protein structures, or “tangles,” inside the nerve cells.
Alzheimer’s patients lose brain cells and when the cells die, the brain shrinks. As the disease progresses, various abilities are affected, including memory, judgment, reasoning, orientation, learning, and communication.
There is currently no single test to determine if a person has Alzheimer’s. The diagnosis is made through a systematic assessment and a process of elimination. This is because many symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be caused by other treatable conditions, including depression, thyroid issues, heart disease, infection, specific nutrient deficiencies (specifically B6, B12, and folic acid), and drug interactions.
Just as there is no specific test for Alzheimer’s, there is also no cure and no surefire way to guarantee you won’t develop the disease. There are two risk factors you cannot control–genetics and age. Only a small percentage of Alzheimer’s cases are associated with the specific genes that cause the inherited form, but age is the most significant known risk factor for AD.
There is, however, a growing body of evidence showing lifestyle choices that keep the mind and body fit might help reduce the risk.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day function–forgetting names and appointments more often and not remembering them later
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks–such as how to prepare a meal
- Problems with language–forgetting simple words or substituting unrelated words, making the person difficult to understand
- Disorientation of time and space–not knowing their own house or street or how to get home
- Poor or decreased judgment–inability to understand the problem, for example, with wearing winter clothing in the summer
- Misplacing things–and also putting things in inappropriate places, such as placing the iron in the freezer
- Changes in mood and behaviour–exhibiting quick swings from calm to anger for no apparent reason
- Changes in personality–may become suspicious, fearful, or act completely out of character
- Loss of initiative–may become very passive and consistently rely on others for prompting to become involved
Source: Alzheimer’s Society of Canada (alzheimer.ca)
Protect Yourself Against Alzheimer’s
Choose a Healthy Diet
According to Alan Logan, ND, in his book The Brain Diet (Cumberland House, 2006), the diet that seems to offer the greatest protection against cognitive decline and also helps control weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol includes:
- High-fibre carbohydrates
- Whole grain cereal
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Marine-based fats
Use It or Lose It
By using your brain, you increase its network connections, or synapses. Try to give your brain a workout every day by doing something different, such as using your nondominant hand to eat a meal or brush your teeth.
Chronic or prolonged stress of any sort–physical, emotional, or psychological–causes the body to release chemicals that are damaging to the brain and other cells.
Protect Your Brain
Research shows an increased risk of developing AD among those who have had brain injuries, especially repeated concussions. Be sure to wear a helmet when there is risk of head injury.
Come Together–Right Now
People who are in regular contact with others maintain brain function better than those who aren’t. Socializing seems to have a protective effect.