Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, but ongoing research shows promise for reducing the risk and delaying the onset of this neurodegenerative disorder.
Understand Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for approximately 80 percent of dementia cases and affecting more than 5.5 million people in the United States. But all dementia is not Alzheimer’s, says David Knopman, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota, and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. Dementia is a general term used to describe a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving, or language. Alzheimer’s is a physical disease that targets the brain, causing problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It is also age-related (symptoms usually start at age 65) and progressive as symptoms usually develop slowly and worsen over time. Research shows that plaques and tangles, two proteins that build up and block connections between nerve cells and eventually damage and kill nerve cells in the brain, cause the symptoms of the disease. Learn more about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Get a baseline brain scan
Neuroimaging, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT), is one of the most promising areas of research for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. “The idea is to start prevention early,” says Gayatri Devi, MD, neurologist, clinical professor of neurology, Downstate Medical Center. “We get routine colonoscopies in our fifties, but the risk for colon cancer is less than the risk for dementia.” Structural imaging can reveal tumors, evidence of strokes, damage from severe head trauma, or a buildup of fluid in the brain. “A baseline brain MRI can reveal the evidence of mini-strokes that you may have had without knowing,” says Dr. Devi. Find out about the 7 stroke symptoms you might be ignoring.
Get enough sleep
When you toss and turn all night, levels of brain-damaging proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid can rise: One study suggests that those with chronic sleep problems during middle age may increase their risk of Alzheimer’s later in life. “You have to commit to the importance of sleep,” says Dr. Devi. “I prioritize sleep as one of the most important activities I do—I will leave a party early in order to get a good night’s sleep.” Here are 15 myths about Alzheimer’s you should stop believing.
Stay socially active
Say yes to those social invitations! Studies reveal that people with a large social network are at lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. “There is something intrinsically valuable about social engagement,” says Dr. Knopman. “It makes sense that those who are more engaged, especially socially, will think more positively and have a better outlook on life.”