Submitted by Alicia DeRuscio, B.S.
Community Education Assistant
Just as our bodies change with age, so do our brains. As we get older, most people tend to notice occasional forgetfulness, a slowed thought process, or a mouth that can’t always speak what the mind is thinking. However, serious forgetfulness or confusion with age can be a sign of failing brain cells. These failing brain cells may indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a general term used to describe a severe decline in mental ability. Due to the severity of decline, those that have the disease cannot maintain their usual day–to–day activities. Alzheimer’s is a gradual, progressive disease that worsens over time, and is not a normal part of aging. In the early stages, individuals experience mild memory loss. As the disease progresses, people often lose their memory, their ability to carry on conversations, and their ability to respond to their surrounding environment.
How does Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain?
Scientists are still uncertain of the exact cause and process of Alzheimer’s disease, however, many believe Alzheimer’s affects our brain cells and keeps them from operating correctly. Our brains have millions of nerve cells that connect to other cells, creating pathways for communication and performing specific jobs including learning, thinking, seeing, smelling, and hearing. Alzheimer’s disease is believed to cause backups and breakdowns between these cells and their functions, which leads to damage, cell death, and irreversible changes within the brain. As this happens, our brain can no longer perform the tasks it used to.
Who does the disease affect?
Alzheimer’s disease is most common in adults over 65, but not everyone who is 65 or older gets Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association states there are currently 200,000 Americans under 65 that have early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
What are the symptoms?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Difficulty remembering newly learned information
- Disorientation, mood and behavior changes
- Confusion about events, time and place
- Suspicions about others including family members, friends, or co- workers
- More serious memory loss
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing, or walking
What are the risk factors?
The three main risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include increasing age, family history, and genetics. As we age, we are more likely to have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Similarly, our family history and our genetics also increase our risk of developing the disease.
How can we prevent Alzheimer’s?
Age, family history, and genetics are all risk factors that we cannot control. However, the Alzheimer’s Association believes that research has begun to show some risk factors that are influenced by our health.
Brain health may be linked to heart health. Therefore, if you have a disease that affects or damages the heart, you are more likely to also develop Alzheimer’s disease. Be sure to visit your doctor regularly, monitor your heart health, and make good lifestyle choices to help prevent the likelihood of onset. Try to avoid alcohol and tobacco, make sure to exercise daily, and eat a nutritious, balanced diet.
There’s also a strong link between head injuries and developing Alzheimer’s, so it’s important to wear a helmet as needed for outdoor activities and always buckle your seatbelt when in a motor vehicle to prevent injury.
While we cannot control everything that happens to us, we can choose to make lifestyle choices that promote our health and well-being, and help decrease our risk for disease.
If you would like to learn more, attend a special program on ‘Living With Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Or Dementia’ presented by Meagan DeMento B.A., Program Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association of Northeastern New York, on January 24 in Littauer’s Auditorium.
You are invited to join us for a buffet-style luncheon at 11:30 for $6 or attend the presentation only at 12 noon at no charge. To attend, call HealthLink Littauer at 518-736-1120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re your community health & wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.