Leon’s dad has Alzheimer’s disease. It’s been six years now. As he puts it, he and his family are “trying to manage it the best we can. My mom is providing some care with the help of the Alzheimer’s Association. We’ve had some people come in during the day so Mom can have respite. It’s probably as good a situation as you can have in a bad situation.”
Leon is the father of two young children. Developing Alzheimer’s, which has been shown to have genetic links, is “one my great fears,” he said. “To be frank, it is to lose my mind and not know who [my children] are.”
While physicians use words like “beta-amyloid,” “tau protein” and “tangles” to explain what’s going on in the brain with Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association simply defines it as “a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss and changes in thinking and other brain functions.”
It’s likely everybody knows someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or has died of Alzheimer’s or is one of the estimated 15 million family members who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it affects millions of Americans in one way or another. Recent stats from the organization are frightening and include the following, among others:
“Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.”
“More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, that number could rise as high as 16 million.”
“Every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops the disease.”
“It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.”
“In 2017, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $259 billion. By 2050, these costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion.”
Naturally, people might wonder how to avoid getting this devastating and incurable disease. Luckily, there are healthy lifestyle choices that might reduce your risk.
No smoking. According to the Alzheimer’s Association studies have shown that smoking “increases the risk of cognitive decline” and “quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.”
Protect your head. Repeated concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, are thought to increase the risk of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association also recommends seatbelt use and wearing helmets during contact sports or while bike riding.
Speaking of your head, the Association also recommends taking care of mental health as “some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline.”
Vigorous exercise. It’s important to get your heart rate up by moving constantly for 20 minutes or more. Your exercise habits should be consistent and persistent.
Get enough sleep. Eight hours of sleep, during the same time period each night, seven days a week is ideal.
Get out among the people. “Staying socially engaged may support brain health,” says the Alzheimer’s Association, which recommends volunteering, joining choirs or clubs, spending time with friends and family and “pursuing social activities that are meaningful to you.”
Be heart healthy and eat well. Many health professionals recommend the Mediterranean diet, which is a diabetic diet of fresh fish, fruits and nuts rather than processed food. On that line, there is thought to be a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Since diabetes often develops in middle age, people who want to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s should ensure they’re controlling diabetes.
Keep learning and challenge yourself. Unfortunately, that means more than just doing word searches and Sudoku puzzles. Mental exercise should be just as hard as physical exercise. Consider thinking outside the box with activities such as strategizing during a chess game, learning a new philosophy, understanding new ways to think about the world or learning a new language.