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Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness

Older woman comforted by medical staff

Alzheimer’s. You’ve probably heard the word or watched a loved one suffering from the disease. The National Institutes of Health estimate that more than 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease. As the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. While you may generally view Alzheimer’s like an older person’s disease, approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have early-onset Alzheimer’s. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age. Most individuals with the disease are 65 or older with the risk doubling every five years after that. Other risk factors include family history, genetics, and head injuries or conditions that damage the heart and blood vessels.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disorder that causes brain cells to waste away and die. The exact causes of Alzheimer's disease aren't fully understood, but at its core are problems with brain proteins that fail to function normally, disrupt the work of brain cells, and unleash a series of toxic events. Neurons are then damaged, lose connections to each other and eventually die.

Early signs of the disease may be forgetting recent events or conversations. During this time, the person may be aware of their difficulty remembering things or organizing thoughts. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer's disease will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to carry out everyday tasks. At this time, a family member or friend may be more aware of the worsening symptoms. In advanced stages of the disease, complications from severe loss of brain function, such as dehydration, malnutrition, or infection, may result in death.

There is growing evidence that indicates people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting some key lifestyle habits. It is never too early or too late to incorporate the following practices as suggested by the Alzheimer’s Association.

These lifestyle habits include:

  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Take a class
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce your risk of brain injury by wearing your seatbelt and using a helmet
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet low in fat and high in vegetables and fruit
  • Get the appropriate amount of sleep
  • Stay socially engaged
  • Challenge and activate your mind by playing games or doing puzzles

If you or your loved one is showing signs of memory issues, you can schedule an assessment with a healthcare provider. A diagnostic workup may include the following:

  • Physical and neurological exam
  • Lab tests
  • Mental status and neuropsychological testing
  • Brain imaging

A vital component of the diagnostic assessment is self-reporting about symptoms. It may also be necessary and helpful to have a close friend or family member available to provide information about symptoms. All of these diagnostic tools are designed to detect dementia and assist in determining whether Alzheimer’s disease or another condition, is the cause. Helen Newberry Joy Hospital hosts an Alzheimer’s Support Group for those suffering from or caring for those with the disease. Meetings are held the 3rd Monday of every month from 6PM-7PM in the Huron Conference Room. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org