Alzheimer's is a terrifying disease, not just for the person experiencing it, but for the person's close ones as well. While we expect our body to stop working as well as we age, we are rarely ready for cognitive decline and forgetting the ones we love. Unfortunately, Alzheimer's disease can lead to severe dementia, a devastating neurological illness that reportedly affects 10% of Singaporeans over age 60. While research is still inconclusive on what exactly causes Alzheimer's, there have been studies regarding several lifestyle habits that can reduce your risk. We explore the three most promising prevention methods below.
What is Alzheimer's Disease & What Causes It?
Before we figure out how to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's, we must first understand what causes it. Alzheimer's Disease is the most common disorder that falls under the umbrella term for cognitive disorders called dementia. It is an irreversible, progressive neurodegenerative disorder where the brain cells that process, store and retrieve information die at a faster rate than normal. In 60-80% of cases, Alzheimer's disease can lead to severe dementia, which causes severe memory loss and cognitive impairment. So far, treatments can slow the progression of Alzheimer's, but they can not stop or reverse it.
The global medical community is still unsure what causes Alzheimer's disease. There are three risk factors: age, family history and genetics. Most people develop Alzheimer's in their late 60's. The risk of developing Alzheimer's also increases if members in your family suffered from it as well. In a small amount of cases (5%), genetic mutations may play a role as well. One of the most heavily researched mutations that can cause Alzherimer's Disease are mutations in the Amyloid Precursor Proteins. When the APP is mutated, it produces a particular type of peptide called beta-amyloid42. This peptide can accumulate to form plaques and eventually causes brain cell death. The presence of this peptide plays an important role in linking other diseases, such as heart disease, to Alzheimer's.
Exercise and Stay Active
There have been many articles written about the benefits of exercise, including the potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. While there is no definitive link (most studies for Alzheimer's prevention are still in their infancy), epidemiological, intervention and animal studies have found a considerable amount of evidence suggesting that physical activity leads to a reduced risk of cognitive illnesses like dementia. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce Alzheimer's Disease risk among cognitively healthy individuals. You don't even need to sign up for an expensive gym to see the benefits. Opting for a basic big-chain gym or simply increasing your daily physical activity like going on walks after work can help or choosing stairs over escalators and elevators can help.
Keep Your Heart Healthy
There is growing evidence that there is a connection between heart health and Alzheimer's disease. For instance, some studies show high insulin resistance may increase the risk of Alzherimer's. Other studies showed that Alzheimer's patients with the beta-amyloid plaques also had high blood pressure and clogged arteries. The more arterial stiffness a person had, the greater the likelihood their brains exhibited typical Alzheimer's symptoms such as brain lesions and amyloid plaques. Thus, keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure low can play a role in not only reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, but can also push back the onset of Alzheimer's. Eating healthy, exercising, cutting back on smoking and drinking are all helpful ways to keep your heart healthy and prevent artery stiffness and high blood and cholesterol levels.
Take Precautions to Prevent Brain Injuries
Another promising way to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's is to reduce your chances of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). A TBI is defined as an injury that results from a violent blow to the head or body. Serious TBIs can result in physical damage to the brain. Studies have found that moderate to severe TBIs can increase the risk of developing dementia 2-4x.
Thus, while it is part of our human nature to automatically protect our heads, there are still some things you can do to further decrease your risk of TBIs. For instance, you should always wear a seatbelt when in a car and wear a helmet while on your motorcycle or bicycle. While this may seem like common sense, a surprisingly high number of Singaporean motorcycle riders still do not wear helmets. Elderly people can fall-proof their homes by making staircases accessible and adding support bars in high-risk areas such as the shower. Furthermore, the elderly should also use walkers and assistive devices to compensate for mobility issues.
Dealing With Alzheimer's & Dementia
One of the most disheartening things about Alzheimer's is isolation that it causes among its sufferers. 75% of Singaporeans diagnosed with dementia felt rejected and lonely. Adding to this, some dementia patients even feel shame due to discrimination and stigma. While some are lucky to have caregivers who lend emotional and physical support, others may not be educated well enough on the symptoms to get proper help or have the means to afford the necessary medical care. This can lead to rapid cognitive decline and a loss of quality of life, putting strain on relatives and friends.
There are a few things you can do if you believe someone you know may be experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer's. The first is to encourage immediate medical attention. Early diagnosis can help the person get a head start on managing and slowing down symptoms. If the person has private health insurance, they may even be covered for Alzheimer's disease treatment. Next, you should do what you can to maintain a healthy relationship with the person. While frustrations are bound to occur, it is necessary to remain patient even in the face of forgetfulness or changes in their mood or behavior.