November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month
Alzheimer’s Disease can be devastating for the families that are affected. In honor of November’s Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month, we’re going to take a look at what it is, what the early warning signs are, and how you might be able to proactively manage your health to reduce your risk factors.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms typically develop slowly and get worse over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. “Dementia” is a blanket term that covers cognitive issues and memory loss that usually affect older adults beyond what you would expect as a normal part of aging. Not everyone who gets old suffers dementia, and not everyone who has memory problems has Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia, and it accounts for about 60-80% of all dementia patients.
Scientists and doctors do not yet know everything about Alzheimer’s. They are not yet sure what exactly causes it to develop, and they are not yet sure how to stop it or reverse it. There are treatments available that can slow it’s progression and alleviate some symptoms, however. What they do know is that people with Alzheimer’s tend to have a lot of abnormal structures called “plaques and tangles” in their brain which are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells, which leads to the symptoms of memory and function loss.
What are the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Only a doctor should diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease–if you or a loved one are experience problems with memory or any of the items on the list of common early symptoms, you should see a doctor to determine the cause. The common early signs of Alzheimer’s are:
- Forgetting Newly Learned Information. It is normal for older adults to sometimes forget things like names or appointments, and then remember them later. It could indicate a problem if someone forgets important dates or events, asks for the same information over and over, or increasingly relies on memory aids or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems. It is expected to occasionally make mistakes when you balance your checkbook. It could indicate a problem if someone experiences changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Most folks occasionally need help with unfamiliar or complex tasks. It could be a problem if someone has trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
Confusion with time or place. Many people sometimes momentarily forget the day of the week, but then figure it out later. It is more concerning if someone loses track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Many, many things can cause vision changes, including the normal aging process or the development of cataracts. However, for some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.
Is There a Way to Manage Your Risk Factors?
We do not yet have a complete understanding of what causes a person to develop Alzheimer’s. We know that the three largest risk factors that tend to occur with Alzheimer’s patients are not under your control–your age, your family history, and your genetics. However, new research is coming out that seems to suggest that there are some risk factors you can control. Mainly, managing your risk for head injury and your cardiovascular health seems to play a role in whether your risk goes up or down for developing Alzheimer’s Disease. This makes sense, because your brain is fed by a rich network of blood vessels, and your heart is responsible for keeping the system running.
A new study known as the SPRINT MIND trial suggests that there is a significant link between aggressively treating high blood pressure problems and lowering your risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s Disease–nearly 20% fewer participants who met a certain blood pressure threshold after treatment developed Alzheimer’s than those who did not. Exercise and strength training can be a big part of managing your blood pressure issues–to find out if a strength training regimen is right for you to help lower your blood pressure, talk to one of our trainers at Vertex Fitness.