November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month. And while the month may be over, continued awareness of Alzheimer's should be a year-round endeavor. With that in mind, we present a guest post from Meredith Rogers of the Geriatric Nursing blog on the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and what you can do to minimize that risk.
Risk Factors of Alzheimer's Disease & What You Can Do to Minimize the Risk
By Meredith Rogers
Before we can look at how to minimize the risks involved with developing Alzheimer’s, it is important to understand what Alzheimer’s disease actually is. Alzheimer’ put bluntly, is a neurodegenerative disease and is the leading cause of dementia (about 65% of all dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s). It causes the neurons in the brain to progressively lose structure and function leading to the death of these neurons.
The earliest and most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is the loss of short-term memory. With progression of the disease, a victim may lose capabilities in language. They may also be disoriented easily and this may lead to them getting lost often. With further progression of the disease, mood swings occur and the victims fail to manage basic self-care. Eventually, bodily functions shut down leading to death. Despite being the leading cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s is not an inevitable condition. There are those, however, who are more prone to it than others. We shall now delve into the factors that increase the risks of developing Alzheimer’s.
Non-modifiable Risk Factors
There are two main types of factors with regard to Alzheimer’s; non-modifiable factors and modifiable factors. The non-modifiable risk factors cannot be changed or influenced while modifiable risk factors can. The number one non-modifiable risk factor is age. This is not to say that Alzheimer’s is a normal part of aging. On the contrary, most people do not develop Alzheimer’s as they grow older. However, the risk of Alzheimer’s increases with age and doubles after 65. This is due to the fact that as one ages, the body’s repair mechanisms become gradually impaired thereby exacerbating the other risk factors involved with Alzheimer's.
Another non-modifiable factor is genetics. Majority of Alzheimer’s cases are random and are not inheritable. However, there are rare cases that are inherited through family members. In fact, less than 5% of all cases are of the inheritable type. What this means is that if a person falls victim to Alzheimer’s, then their children have increased chances of inheriting the gene that causes the disease and later on developing Alzheimer’s. Some genes such as the PS1 gene have been discovered in recent years to cause Alzheimer’s and research is underway to discover more.
A final non-modifiable factor is gender. Researchers have, in recent years, tried to determine whether men or women are more prone to developing Alzheimer’s. Recent results have been inconclusive at best despite women being historically thought to be more prone than men.
Modifiable Risk Factors
Having looked at the non-modifiable factors, we shall now look into modifiable factors and what we can do to minimize their role in developing Alzheimer’s. The first such factor is smoking. Smoking is related to a host of other diseases and cardiovascular conditions than Alzheimer’s all of which may play a role in a person developing the disease. There is strong evidence that shows smokers have a 45% higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s or even other forms of dementia compared to non-smokers.
Hypertension (High blood pressure)
People with hypertension, on average, have a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s than people without the condition. This is especially true of people in their middle ages Hypertension affects the circulation of blood to the brain and this plays a critical role in the development of vascular dementia which may in turn lead to Alzheimer’s.
People in their middle ages who suffer from type 2 diabetes are, on average, more prone to Alzheimer’s. In fact, research has shown that type 2 diabetes doubles the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
High cholesterol is another risk factor that increases chances of developing Alzheimer’s. There is strong evidence from research that people with high levels of cholesterol are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those with normal levels. High cholesterol is a risk factor for hypertension and diabetes as well making it an even more prominent risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Obesity and a lack of physical activity are risk factors for diabetes and hypertension. This means that there is a greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s from the resulting diabetes and hypertension, therefore making obesity a risk factor to be considered.
Steps to Minimize Risks of Developing Alzheimer's
The good news with regard to these modifiable factors is that they can be managed. There are simple ways to manage these factors and they include:
- Increase physical activity through exercise
- Quit smoking
- Keep track of your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. If the numbers are unhealthy, take steps to manage them after consultation with your doctor.
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet
- Keeping the mind active by engaging in some new activities, playing games or even trying to learn a new language