Along with the diagnosis of cancer, perhaps the most feared diagnosis that many people carry in the back of their minds is Alzheimer's disease. It can also be known as Alzheimer's Dementia.
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?
Alzheimer's has become almost synonymous with aging, so much so that people can forget that it is not a normal part of aging. Also, dementia is not the same as Alzheimer's. Dementia is a symptom of Alzheimer's disease, or it can be an isolated disease.
Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative brain disease. Also, it begins its battle in your brain 20 years or more, before you have significant symptoms. During that time, our brains can compensate for the gradual deterioration until the damage has become severe enough that symptoms such as forgetfulness or language difficulties develop.
HOW THE ALZHEIMER DESTROYS THE BRAIN
Our brain transfers information through neurons and the branches of neurons with synapses used to connect them all together. Data is like a spark of static electricity from one neuron to another neuron. This process is what enables our memory, thoughts, sensations, abilities, emotions, and movement. With Alzheimer's disease, two proteins bind to neurons.
Beta-amyloid plaques adhere to the outside of neurons. They are believed to cause cell death by preventing neurons from being able to communicate with each other at synapses.
The second protein is called tau tangles, and it attaches itself to the inside of neurons. It is believed to essentially create starvation of neurons by blocking the ability of nutrients and other molecules to enter.
As the beta-amyloid plaques rise to such a high level, they push the tau tangles to spread throughout the brain. This then triggers the microglia in the brain. Microglia are designed to remove toxins from the body and are the custodians of dead cells. An abundance of the two proteins is considered a toxin, creating inflammation as a response of the microglia that tries to decrease their number. As the microglia become overwhelmed, more brain cells die and the brain begins to atrophy. At the same time, the brain cannot use glucose, which is its primary energy source, increasing damage.
This decline continues as the plaques and tangles spread to include the various functions of the brain. It can affect the personality of the person, create confusion, noticeable loss of memory including time and place, depression, and finally, in the final stages, semi-automated bodily functions begin to fail.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?
The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can be similar to normal aging mental decline, except to a much greater degree. It is not unusual for someone to forget where they placed something. The difference is that the average person will be able to retrace their steps that day and find the missing item. A patient with Alzheimer's will have no memory of his day. Here are some of the other symptoms of Alzheimer's disease:
1 - A SIGNIFICANT DECLINATION IN THE MEMORY.
A person with Alzheimer's will have difficulty remembering new information, dates, events, or will need constant repetition of other information that they were normally able to handle. You may find that notes are written. Or they may need friends and family to remind them of normal everyday things.
2 - A DECREASED ABILITY TO SOLVE PROBLEMS
Problem solving, working within a plan, or the ability to work with numbers decrease. They suddenly have trouble paying bills, doing simple math, counting money, or figuring out how to double a recipe.
3 - THE TIME AND THE PLACE ARE CONFUNDANT.
They begin to lose track of the seasons, dates, or how much time has passed. For example, they may go for a walk and not realize how much time has passed. Nor will they remember why they are where they are. In fact, they may not even recognize where they are and get completely lost.
4 - THE VISION AND THE SPACE AWARENESS DECREASE.
They may have a hard time reading, identifying colors, and judging depth or distance.
5 - COMMUNICATION AND VOCABULARY BECOME DIFFICULT.
They may not be able to find the correct words often or substitute other phrases to represent an everyday item. They may start a conversation and then forget what they were saying or stop talking as if they don't remember they were talking.
6 - LESS HYGIENE
They forget to bathe, brush, and floss or other personal care habits.
7 - REJECTION OF SOCIAL ACTIVITIES.
As they become more aware of their shortcomings, they begin to withdraw from their family and friends. They can no longer follow conversations, TV shows, and do their hobbies.
8 - THE PERSONALITY BEGINS TO CHANGE.
As their world grows scarier, they become too hostile, angry, and confused.
WHAT ARE FOUR WAYS TO LOWER YOUR RISK OF DEVELOPING ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE?
A study recently published in "Alzheimer's and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association" offers hope for potential improvement in brain function and a decrease in Alzheimer's symptoms within 18 months of following a specific plan. This plan involves diet, exercise, and cognitive exercises.
The study was organized and written by Dr. Robert Issacson, founder of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian and the Weill Cornell Medical Center. He and his research team conducted a study asking his clients to volunteer. They had 154 patients between the ages of 25-86 volunteers.
These patients were not symptomatic but had a family history of Alzheimer's. And they already showed a decline in cognitive function in specific tests, but not any clinical symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer's. Thirty-five of the volunteers showed early stages of Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment. MCI means that they show strong signs of cognitive difficulties that have not reached a level of daily deterioration.
All the volunteers underwent a battery of family health questions, medical and cognitive tests to determine an overall healthy picture and to determine if they showed Alzheimer's-prone cognitive decline. Those who showed cognitive impairment, to some degree, underwent additional evaluations.
The researchers gave each of the members a personalized and specialized list of 21 activities to follow. The emphasis was on nutrition and physical activity, however that part of the plan was designed specifically for each individual. Some of the details on the list that the group monitored were:
- Alcohol consumption
- Dairy consumption
- Vitamins and minerals
- Listening to music
- Learning something new
- General medical care
THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The results were impressive. Individuals diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment who followed at least 12 of the 21 activities demonstrated improvement in memory and thinking skills 18 months later.
For those with MCI who did not follow at least 60% or 12 of the 21 activities, they showed no improvement and decreased memory and thinking.
People who had a family predisposition to Alzheimer's disease but did not show any symptoms also had marked improvement, regardless of whether they had 60% or less on the list.
The medical field has already been doing studies to try to determine the role that nutrients or diet and exercise can play in Alzheimer's, but this is the first study to personalize diet and exercise based on health needs or difficulties of the patient. The other two factors this study called critical for Alzheimer's delay are sleeping and learning something new.
THE FOUR DETERMINING FACTORS ARE:
- Diet or feeding
- Physical exercise
- Sleep well
- Learn something new
This study may not be a cure, but it does point to a method to decrease cognitive decline during those 20 plus years before the acute onset of symptoms.
FINAL THOUGHTS: PREVENTION OF ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE IS IMPERATIVE
Researchers are still searching for a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Therefore, every step that doctors and scientists can take to lessen its severity or delay its onset is a blessing to patients and their families.
Neurologists explain the four ways to reduce Alzheimer's risk, and it all comes down to proper diet, exercise plan, sleep, and keeping the brain learning something new. Combining that with potentially new drugs and an early, accurate blood test can give millions hope over the next 30 years to limit the devastation that Alzheimer's can cause.