The term Alzheimer’s is medically defined as the progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility. To put that into basic terms, Alzheimer’s is mentally debilitating and emotionally crippling.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes issues with memory, cognitive thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop relatively slowly and progressively get worse over time. The disease progressively becomes more severe over time and interferes with the daily tasks commonly completed. One of the biggest misconceptions associated with Alzheimer’s is that it’s a normal part of aging—that incorrect assumption is where the phrase ‘old age’ is derived. With that said, the greatest risk factor is increasing age, and most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 years old and older. According to the Alzheimer’s Organization, approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Through research, scientists have discovered common factors that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Age: One in nine people in this age group of 65 and older experience Alzheimer’s. While one third of people within the age 85 and older group suffer from Alzheimer’s. Per an article by The Reader’s Digest, Mark McDaniel, PhD, professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis recommends a combined program of aerobics and weight training. McDaniel reported that studies show the best outcomes for those engaged in both types of exercise. In addition, a good nutrition can also increase your changes of not developing a case of Alzheimer’s. The best things you can eat for your body are the things you can eat for your brain.
- Family History: One of the biggest red flags that could potentially warn someone about Alzheimer’s is a family history of the disease. Individuals who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the terrible disease. Furthermore, if more than one family member has the disease the risk increases. When diseases run in the family, either heredity or environmental factors, these are good discussion points to have with your doctor.
While there are several influences that you’re unable to control, there are others factors that you can keep an eye on.
- Head injury: Doctors have found a strong link between serious head injury and the future risk of Alzheimer’s—especially when trauma occurs repeatedly or involves loss of consciousness. When driving a vehicle, buckle up. If you’re participating in physical contact sports, wear a safety certified helmet.
- Heard-head connection: Research has linked brain health to heart health. While some individuals may not agree, the association does make scientific sense because the brain is nourished by one of the richest networks of blood vessels—and the heart is the organ pumping blood through these blood vessels to the brain. Researchers have analyzed donated brain tissue and the studies have suggested that the plaques and tangles are very likely to cause Alzheimer’s symptoms if strokes or damage to the brain’s blood vessels exist.
For individuals that are not older and who do not have a family history of Alzheimer’s, there are warning signs to be aware of. Obviously, if you forget something at the grocery store or can’t find your place on a map, this doesn’t necessarily point towards an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. With that said, it’s important to identify patterns within these behaviors—and if there is a consistency associated with these symptoms you should contact your physician and discuss your concerns.
- Loss of Memory: The average person relies on a planner or reminders on their calendar to keep them in check; however, if you need notes to remind you to do simple tasks that you complete on a daily basis then there may a level of concern to be aware of. Simple tasks such as feeding your dog, taking your children to school, and daily work assignments should be somewhat second nature because they’re part of your organic day-to-day.
- Constant Confusion: Do you get disoriented easily or perhaps you have a loved one that does? It’s common to get lost at some time, but if you’re constantly losing track of your position then it’s time to consult your doctor. This can be as simple as making a trip to the grocery store and then suddenly not remembering how you got there.
- Issues with Speech and Writing: One of the biggest and earliest red flags, amongst Alzheimer’s victims, is struggling with writing words and finding the words to verbally make a sentence. Remember, it’s common to occasionally lose your train of thought mid-sentence or to forget what you were going to contribute to a conversation; however, if it happens all of the time then it’s a problem. Those suffering from early on-sets of Alzheimer’s may stop talking abruptly in the midst of a conversation and then have no idea why or what’s going on—they may even repeat themselves multiple times.
- Decline from Work and Social Activities: It’s totally normal to not want to go to work or perhaps, after a busy work week, to feel inclined to cancel a social event because lounging on the couch sounds like a better time. However, if you’re struggling to complete a common hobby, lose interest in things that you recently took joy in or remove yourself because of anxiety, there may be an issue arising. Studies have reflected strong connections between depression and Alzheimer’s.
- Poor Judgement: Now be easy on yourself. Everybody makes mistakes, but it’s important to know that Alzheimer’s affects concentration. Small tasks such as paying bills and counting out money should be second nature—same as knowing what season of weather is taking place and personal hygiene. If those simplistic tasks are slipping away, it’s time to discuss your concerns with a doctor.
Alzheimer’s is terrifying—for patients and their families. Since the disease is progressive a lot of warning signs are overlooked and attributed to old age or the hustle and bustle of a busy day. While those instances are entirely true, it’s important to take care of yourself and identify the difference between a one-time absent judgment call and a pattern of instances that are a diagnosis.