June is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. We hope this information helps you to recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s Disease so you can be of help to someone you know who may be showing symptoms. Alzheimer’s is the seventh most common cause of death in the USA and that number is expected to grow as our population ages.
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear later in life; usually after age 60. There is an early onset version of the disease which can start as early as age 30, however. Despite the fact that African Americans are 1.5 -2 times more likely than white people to develop the disease, they are 35% less likely to have a diagnosis at an initial health visit. The reasons are complicated and understudied, but two factors stand out—African Americans are more likely to have hypertension and diabetes, both of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease. It is important if you or someone you know is having issues with memory and mood changes, or difficulty completing normal everyday tasks to seek help from a doctor. Also, it is a commonly held belief that memory lapses and mild cognitive impairment are normal signs of aging; they are not. Please seek a doctor’s care if you are experiencing these symptoms.
Alzheimer’s starts before symptoms show. There are three stages: Mild, Moderate and Severe.
In the Mild Stage a person can exhibit memory issues, wandering off causing danger to themselves, become unable to handle their personal affairs-such as paying bills, etc. People are usually diagnosed at this stage.
In the Moderate Stage, memory issues get worse and include not recognizing people in one’s own family. The patient has trouble processing sounds and smells and is unable to learn new skills. Impulsive behavior can occur at this stage.
At the Severe Stage, the patient can no longer communicate and is totally dependent on others for their care. Eventually the body shuts down as the parts of the brain that control bodily functions are damaged by the plaque build-up and brain shrinkage.
In mild Alzheimer’s disease, a person may seem to be healthy but has more and more trouble making sense of the world around him or her. The realization that something is wrong often comes gradually to the person and his or her family. Problems can include:
A combination of questions about health and lifestyle, memory tests, brain scans, and blood and urine samples are used to diagnose Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain called “amyloid plaques,” which form “tau tangles.” As more neurons die due to these plaque build-ups, parts of the brain shrink. No one knows for sure the exact cause, but it is likely a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.
Research suggests that factors beyond genetics may play a role in the development and course of Alzheimer’s. There is a relationship between cognitive decline and conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, as well as conditions such as diabetes and obesity.
The good news is that there are known links between following a nutritious diet, staying physically activity and socially engaged, along with pursing mentally stimulating pursuits (like reading, dancing, making art, playing an instrument, and playing games) with helping people stay healthy as they age. Following a Mediterranean diet or MIND diet is a healthy and enjoyable way of eating that can reduce adverse health conditions (up to 53% less in some studies) often associated with aging and might also help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.
Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s there are some drugs and therapeutic measures which can somewhat ameliorate the effects of the disease. Donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine are the FDA approved drugs which help regulate neurotransmitters in the brain to aid in retaining memory and mood.
Aducanumab is the first disease-modifying therapy approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimer’s disease. It works to help reduce the amyloid plaque deposits in the brain.
Support for family members:
If you are helping care for a family member with Alzheimer’s, it is vital that you reach out for help and not neglect your own health. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can cause emotional, physical and financial burdens. Here are some support groups and service recommendations:
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: National Institute on Aging:
The Mind Diet:
Give yourself a point for each of the following MIND diet rules you typically follow in your life (up to a max of 15 points).
For more information, please consult the sources below.
“Alzheimer’s Disease.” (n.d.) Mayo Clinic: Health Information. Web.
<https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447> Accessed, March 2, 2022.
“Elder Care Locater.” (n.d.) Administration on Aging (AoA): U.S. Administration for Community Living.
Web. https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx Accessed March 1, 2022.
McKeehan, Nick. (July 28, 2020). “African Americans and Alzheimer’s Disease.” Cognitive Vitality: A
program of Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. Web. <https://www.alzdiscovery.org/cognitive-vitality/blog/african-americans-and-alzheimers-disease> Accessed March 1, 2022.
Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., Sacks, F. M., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Aggarwal, N. T.
(2015). MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s & dementia: the journal of the
Alzheimer’s Association, 11(9), 1015–1022. <https://doi-org.uc.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011> <https://pubmed-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.uc.idm.oclc.org/26086182/>
Murad, Angela L. “15 Simple Diet teaks that could cut your Alzheimer’s Risk.” Mayo Clinic. Health
Information. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/indepth/15-simple-diet-tweaks-cut-alzheimers-risk/art-20342112 Accessed March 2, 2022.
National Institute of Health (NIA). (July 2021). Alzheimer’s Fact Sheet. Web.
<https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet> Accessed March 1, 2022.
National Institute of Health (NIA). (Dec. 16, 2021). Data shows racial disparities in Alzheimer’s Disease
diagnosis between Black and white research study participants. Web.
National Institute of Health (NIA). (2017). What are the signs of Alzheimer’s Disease? Website.
<https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-alzheimers-disease > Accessed March 2, 2022.