Early Detection & Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease Can Improve Quality Of Life
Bay Alarm Medical
March 21, 2019
The number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is expected to double by 2050, rising from 5.8 million people age 65 and over to 13.8 million in just over 30 years. This increase will be costly in terms of medical care, strain on health providers, and families who struggle to provide the best care possible. As researchers look for effective treatments and, eventually, a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), they’re finding that early detection may slow progress of the disease and can improve quality of life.
Risk Factors For Alzheimer’s
One impediment to a cure is that no one can agree on exactly what causes Alzheimer’s and some other dementia-related conditions. However, there are specific risk factors and health and lifestyle issues that may increase or decrease the risk of developing the disease.
Unfortunately, two known risk factors are out of anyone’s control:
- Age: Adults age 85 and older have a 50% risk of developing AD.
- Genes: The ApoE gene is the primary cholesterol carrier in the brain, and everyone carries two copies of the gene. The version called ApoE4 is associated with increased risk of AD. People with two copies of that gene have a 12x greater risk of late-onset AD.
Health and lifestyle issues that appear to increase the chance of developing AD include:
- High blood pressure and vascular diseases
- Poor dental care and hygiene: Gum disease has been associated with increased risk of AD and vascular dementia.
- Poor sleep habits: Your brain does maintenance while you sleep and clears out toxins and waste proteins that build up while you’re awake. This may explain why many types of dementia are related to sleep disorders. Review our tips to help seniors sleep better.
Health and lifestyle choices that may help protect you from AD include:
- Regular physical exercise may help prevent AD or slow the disease’s progression.
- Healthy diet high in fiber and plant proteins and lower in saturated fats
- Safety consciousness: Head injuries are strongly correlated with increased AD risk. Learn more about the risks associated with falls and why medical alert systems with fall detection are a good option for dementia patients.
- Dietary supplements: Researchers think that compounds contained in Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent AD by reducing beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.
Some observational studies seem to show that strong social connections and activities that are cognitively stimulating (learn to play the guitar instead of just listening to music, for example) may help protect the brain. In any case, a strong social network and a penchant for learning new things certainly increases your quality of life!
Be Alert to Early Symptoms
Alzheimer’s begins to affect brain function decades before it’s diagnosed. The average length of time between when cognitive symptoms appear and an AD diagnosis is 2.8 years. Many people ignore the earliest symptoms because they assume that memory loss is a “natural’ part of aging. Actually, it often is, but there’s a big difference between “normal” aging and dementia.
In any case, it’s always better to treat any disease sooner, rather than later.
A 2012 study of British civil servants found that mild memory loss and decrease in cognitive function begins as early as age 45 in many people. It’s generally mild – forgetting someone’s name, leaving items off the grocery list, neglecting to take the list to the store, or other inconveniences. These minor issues may morph into major health issues in later life though:
“It matters, say the scientists, because those whose brains appear to deteriorate fastest may be more likely to develop dementia in later life – and because if there is any chance of slowing that process, those at highest risk may need to be detected and treated at an early stage, before Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia becomes apparent.”
Signs of early-onset AD include:
- Memory loss – forgetting important appointments, recent conversations, TV shows and movies watched
- Difficulty solving problems & making decisions – can’t balance the checkbook, follow map directions, choose between options, or make plans.
- Mixing up dates and places
- Problems completing familiar tasks – getting lost when traveling to familiar locations, problems dressing, driving, cooking, etc.
- Difficulty remembering words – randomly pausing during a sentence because you can’t remember the end or specific words you wanted to use
- Personality changes or mood swings
- Misplacing things
Regular Health & Cognitive Screenings Can Catch the Disease Earlier
Be alert to changes in your own behavior and that of older friends and relatives. New medications can help lessen symptoms of confusion and memory loss. The earlier a patient begins taking them, the better the drugs stabilize symptoms and improve quality of life.
Medicare covers an “Annual Wellness Visit” with no co-pay, and that visit is supposed to include a cognitive assessment, but only a third of Seniors know that. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association 2019 report found problems:
“…despite a strong belief among seniors and primary care physicians that brief cognitive assessments are important, only half of seniors are being assessed for thinking and memory issues, and much fewer receive routine assessments.”
The study found problems on both sides of the doctor/patient relationship. Physicians are waiting for patients to report cognitive problems and ask for screening. Patients are waiting for the doctor to bring up the subject. Don’t wait to be asked! Schedule your annual visit and request a screening. A screening test can sometimes identify symptoms long before the patient or family notices a problem.
Dementia is a hard topic for patients, their families, and – it seems – their physicians as well. Nobody wants to hear that diagnosis, but early testing, diagnosis, and treatment can help lessen the severity of symptoms.
Learn more about prevention research and study/drug trial opportunities at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative Web site.