Alzheimer’s Awareness: Understanding and Prevention

In October of 1982, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed one week in November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Week. One year later he proclaimed November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Month. At that time, he did not know that he would join the millions of Americans who are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, there are more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s. Among older people, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia (a decline in cognitive function that interferes with daily life and activities). However, it is not a normal part of aging.

What is Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible and progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Symptoms usually appear after age 60, but many scientists now believe damage to the brain may begin decades earlier. Research conducted and supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Health Administration has shed light on these early effects and identified genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Doctors are now able to start treatments earlier, slowing the loss of brain cells and the progression of debilitating physical and mental impairments.

Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

The first warning sign of Alzheimer’s is often memory loss, which usually progresses to symptoms that include:

  • difficulty performing daily tasks
  • trouble communicating clearly
  • confusion about time and place
  • misplacing things
  • struggling to make basic decisions
  • other fundamental changes in personality

Testing for Alzheimer’s typically involves questioning to test memory and other cognitive skills, in addition to a physical exam and sometimes a CT or MRI scan to test for any physical changes to the brain.

Learn more about the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s Treatment Options

Scientists are learning more every day, but right now, they still do not know what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Although there is no cure, treatment can slow the progression of AD and help manage its symptoms in some people.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine supports studies on Alzheimer’s and diseases and conditions related to aging. In one recent NCCAM-funded study, it was found that 240 milligrams per day of the dietary supplement Ginkgo biloba was ineffective in reducing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people. Those considering using Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies, should talk to their health care providers to ensure safe and coordinated care.

A 2008 article from CNN suggested that getting plenty of antioxidants, fish oil and maybe even eating curry could all help prevent dementia-related diseases.

Also, remember that the brain is a muscle, and like any muscle, it needs exercise to stay fit. Puzzles, crosswords, games and computational tasks such as math are all good ways to exercise your brain. Another way to stay sharp? Friendship. Social interaction, when combined with other treatments, can alter the course of the disease and improve quality of life.

Alzheimer’s Risk Factors

The biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s is aging – as you get older, your risk increases. Most vascular risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, have also been shown to be risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s. Other risk factors include diabetes, smoking, obesity and a family history of the disease.

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