Alzheimer's: What Is Really in Your Control?
When it comes to Alzheimer's Disease (AD), the sad reality is that there is no cure. But a significant number of people have an increased risk due to genetics, and everyone has an increased risk as they age.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, of the more than five million Americans with Alzheimer's, approximately 200,000 individuals develop the disease before age 65 (younger-onset Alzheimer's disease or YOAD). Additionally, barring a cure or some type of prevention, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds.
What do we do, just give up and give in? Or do we look for ways that may give us a better chance to get through our last years without signs and symptoms of this devastating disease?
I say let’s fight. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have determined that winning may be possible. Some people will develop the disease no matter what they do but, according to these researchers’ latest study, there are everyday factors that may influence our risk of developing dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s.
For their study, the Edinburgh researchers considered air quality, toxic heavy metals, other metals, other trace elements, occupational-related exposures, and miscellaneous environmental factors and found that there is at least moderate evidence implicating the following risk factors:
- Air pollution
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Electric and magnetic fields
While this study left many cases of Alzheimer’s unexplained, there is a growing consensus among doctors that a significant proportion of cases could be prevented or delayed by addressing environmental factors linked to the disease.
Tom Russ, Ph.D., MRC.Psych, of the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh explained the reasoning behind the study in a press release: "Our ultimate goal is to prevent or delay the onset of dementia. Environmental risk factors are an important new area to consider here, particularly since we might be able to do something about them."
Alzheimer’s conference stresses lifestyle for delaying or preventing AD
According to the conclusions of the researchers who attended the 2014 International Alzheimer’s Conference in Copenhagen, while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s they stressed that study after study has shown that people can lower their risk by living a healthy lifestyle. This lifestyle includes:
A healthy diet that includes maximum fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, healthy oils such as olive oil, whole grains, and fatty fish
Enough exercise to get the blood pumping (even brisk walking will do)
Mental stimulation that includes a variety of challenges to help the brain maintain flexibility
Socialization – isolated people are more at risk for developing dementia
Maintain a healthy weight
- Stop smoking
The 2016 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto resulted, overall, in the same conclusion. Following the convention, HealthCentral interviewed Heather Snyder, Ph.D., director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. When asked about why the multiple studies about social engagement and the work place are significant to the understanding of Alzheimer’s and the treatment for the disease Dr. Snyder said:
"They are adding to this overall understanding that we continue to grow about what are some lifestyle behaviors that we can continue with or we should adopt to keep our brain as healthy as we can as we age. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association has the 'Ten Ways to Love Your Brain' that’s based on the science of really thinking about what we can do now."
How do these conclusions affect you?
The encouraging takeaway from the current study about environmental factors, as well as the International Alzheimer’s Conferences, is that we are not helpless. While not all cases of AD can be explained by environmental factors or lifestyle, many can. Therefore, common sense can apply when it comes to lowering your risk.
Much of the advice above is also considered essential for heart health, thus one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s favorite slogans: “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.”
If you want to lower your Alzheimer’s risk, take care of yourself. As mentioned above, even the studies admit that this is not a guarantee. Some people will develop Alzheimer’s no matter what they do. However, doing what you can is one way to take some ownership of your future -- and ownership is power.
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Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder_ and on Facebook _Minding Our Elders.