In the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and the sixth-leading cause of death. Recently, experts estimate it may be the third-leading cause of death in older adults, after only heart disease and cancer. You may know someone with Alzheimer’s disease or who has a loved one suffering from the disease.
While forgetfulness or slowed thinking can be normal as we grow older, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. While it primarily affects people older than 65, early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur in younger people as well.
Here is what you need to know about signs of Alzheimer’s disease, plus tips to keeping your brain healthy as you age.
Symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain and cognitive functioning, and its symptoms may include memory problems, confusion, changes in behavior or personality, difficulty with problem-solving, getting lost in familiar places, speech problems, depression, paranoia, hallucinations, and difficulty performing activities of daily living such as getting dressed or cooking.
It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by other conditions and aren’t always an indication of a person with Alzheimer’s. But if you notice them in yourself or a loved one, talk to your primary care provider.
Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment
While there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s yet, there are treatment options that can slow the progression of symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.
Keeping your Brain Healthy: While researchers haven’t found proven ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, studies have found certain lifestyle modifications can help decrease your chances of dementia. These include the following:
Exercising regularly: Regular physical activity is just as good for your brain as it is for your heart. Exercise can improve your memory and blood flow. It also causes chemical changes that boost your mood and ability to learn. Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like walking, swimming, water aerobics, hiking, jogging, dancing or cycling. Strength training (such as weightlifting, Pilates and bodyweight exercises) and balance training (such as tai chi and yoga) are also beneficial.
Eating a nutrient-rich diet: Every day, we are exposed to stress from our lifestyles and the environment. This stress causes a process called oxidation in the body, which can damage your brain cells. Antioxidants found in certain foods combat oxidation in the brain. Studies indicate that a Mediterranean-style meal plan that includes whole grains, fish, leafy greens, nuts and olives increases brain health. Other brain-boosting foods include berries, eggs, dark chocolate, herbs, spices, tea, and coffee.
Preventing head trauma: Avoid a head injury by wearing a helmet when playing sports, using a seat belt in the car, and removing tripping hazards around your home.
Managing other health conditions: To protect your brain health, it’s important to keep conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression well-managed and under control. See your primary care provider each year for a checkup and take your medications as prescribed.
Not smoking: Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke is essential in protecting your brain health.
Socializing: Socializing with family and friends is great for your brain because it helps combat stress and provides intellectual stimulation. Try walks or visits, phone or video calls, and texts.
Exercising your brain: Stay mentally active through activities like puzzles, memory games, reading, taking classes, learning a new hobby or skill, or playing a musical instrument.
Getting enough sleep and managing stress: Researchers suggest sleep can help reduce beta-amyloid plaque buildup in the brain. This is an abnormal protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Try to get at least six hours of sleep or more a night. Stress management and meditation may also help preserve brain health as you age.
Talk to your primary care provider if you have any concerns about your brain health. Visit pardeehospital.org to find a provider near you.