For me, the most heart wrenching illnesses are Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases. To experience someone you know and love lose their cognition and memory must be devastating – to say the least. I am fortunate not to have experienced this first hand, yet. The chances that I will experience a loved one with a dementia illness or have a personal experience with it are high.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. What’s more, more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care, worth over $221.3 billion.
I don’t know about you, but I find these statistics to be shocking.
But there is hope. According to the Mayo Clinic, experts are cautiously hopeful about developing Alzheimer’s treatments that can stop or significantly delay its progression. By combining different medications, similar to how HIV/AIDS and some cancers are treated, they hope to slow down or put a stop to this disease.
Researchers are focusing on plaques, which are a characteristic sign of Alzheimer’s. Several drugs may prevent plaques from forming and help clear the brain of the protein responsible for their formation. Recent research shows that these types of medications work best during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. More studies are underway.
Researchers are also hopeful that certain medications can prevent the interaction of two proteins that when combine trigger a destruction of connections between nerve cells and the brain. They have tested a medication, originally developed as a possible cancer treatment, in mice. The animals experienced a reversal of memory loss. A human trial has already begun.
A common brain abnormality found in people with Alzheimer’s is called tangles. This happens when a particular protein twists into microscopic fibers. Researchers are currently looking for ways to prevent theses tangles. Vaccines and inhibitors are currently being tested in trials.
Lastly, in the research realm, researchers are looking at the inflammation of brain cells that occur with Alzheimer’s disease. Treating the inflammatory process that occurs with Alzheimer’s may provide relief to some of the disease’s symptoms.
While we wait for these studies and experiments to pan out, there are some things you can do to help keep Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay. Here is a list of five things you can start doing today:
- Watch your food intake. There are foods you can eat that support brain function. Berries, nuts, olive oil, and dark, leafy greens are staples to a brain healthy diet. A diet called the MIND diet, a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, ranked third on the US News and World Report’s annual best diet list.
- Keep moving. The US National Institute on Aging found that exercise can play a key role in reducing your risk for Alzheimer’s and general cognitive decline.
- Less Stress. There is evidence that links high stress with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. There are a number of ways to lower your stress, including yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises.
- Get a good night’s sleep. A 2014 study found a link between poor sleep habits and increased risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
- Develop and maintain a social network. According the US National Institute on Aging, staying cognitively active through social interactions is linked with a decrease in Alzheimer’s.
By taking these preventive steps you’ll not only potentially decrease your chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia illnesses, but you will feel better as you are doing it. Between your own positive habits and the miracle of medicine, Alzheimer’s and dementia may someday become diseases of the past.