Is Alzheimer's Disease hardwired into the brain's destiny as we age?
It's a scary thought and many people believe it's true. But the good news is that we're learning more all the time about the root causes and progression of Alzheimer's and the factors that may protect the brain from this illness.
Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, affecting a person's memory, thinking and behavior to the point where they don't recognize themselves and their loved ones. Approximately 5.5 million people age 65 and older have Alzheimer's Disease. Nearly 200,000 people under age 65 have "younger-onset" AD. Symptoms start slowly and worsen over time, ultimately interfering with independent living and quality of life. Signs to look for include:
Persistent forgetting of recently learned information and important dates or events
Difficulty planning, problem solving, completing familiar tasks, and understanding time
Difficulty processing visual images, object distance and contrast
Trouble maintaining a conversation
Social withdrawal and depression
Changes in mood and personality, usually becoming anxious, suspicious, or confused
Scientists believe the disease process begins when protein deposits build up in brain tissue and damage nerve cells. This can evolve over 10-20 years before symptoms are noticed. While family history can increase your risk, there are many other factors influence the onset and progression of AD. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as outlined below, can help alter your brain's destiny.
The Brain-Body Health Connection. Several illnesses are linked to an increased risk for AD, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. To protect your mind from cognitive decline, exercise daily, eat more vegetables and whole foods, learn new skills, meditate, read regularly, and get quality sleep each night.
Smart Food for Healthy Aging. Choosing fresh, nutrient rich foods is vital for brain health (and the body, too!). Select organic foods to decrease exposure to toxins that exist in conventional farming. Limit your intake of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, refined grains, and packaged foods to ensure optimal health benefits from your food.
Manage Stress. Stress elevates hormones in the body that increase inflammation which, over time, interferes with optimal functioning and contributes to illness. Relax with yoga, mindful walking, or guided imagery to help keep these hormones in balance.
Get Your ZZs. We need just as much sleep in our elder years as in our 30s and 40s. What does change is the brain's ability to maintain continuity and quality of sleep, particularly deep sleep. Maintaining healthy sleep habits throughout your adult life can make it easier to maintain sleep quality as you age.
A Personalized Approach, Naturally. Prevention is important, but once signs of cognitive decline are noticed, you need expert guidance. Though more long-term studies are needed, initial research shows that a personalized approach incorporating natural medicines plus lifestyle change can reverse cognitive decline for some people. For expert guidance in developing a personalized prevention or early intervention program, consult with a specialist in natural medicine treatments for Alzheimer's Disease such as a Naturopathic Doctor or Functional Medicine practitioner.
- TED Radio Hour. "Lisa Genova: Can Alzheimer's Disease be Prevented?" Accessed 10 Apr 2018
- NIA.NIH.gov "What Causes Alzheimer's Disease?"
- Alzheimer's Association: "10 Early Signs and Symptoms".
- Alzheimer's Association: "Alzheimer's Disease Fact and Figures."
- National Institute of Aging Online. "Memory & Cognitive Health."
- Also see Brain Health Presentations and Handouts
- Smith G.E., "Healthy Cognitive Function and Dementia Prevention." Am Psychol. (2016, May-June). 71:4, 268-275.
- Alz.org "10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's."
- Alzheimer's Association. The Healthy Brain Initiative: A national public health road map to maintaining cognitive health (published with the CDC).
- Healthy Aging and Prevention: Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Emory University.
- Bredesen, Dale E. "Reversal of Cognitive Decline: A Novel Therapeutic Program." Aging (Albany NY) 6.9 (2014): 707–717.
- Woods, B. Aguirre, E. Et al., "Can cognitive stimulation benefit people with dementia?" posted 15 Feb 2012.
- Murray, Michael T. "Alzheimer's Disease" as cited in Pizzorno, Joseph E. & Murray, Michael T. (eds.)Textbook of Natural Medicine (4thed).(Churchill Livingstone.2013.), 1196-1197.
- Amieva H., Meillon C., Helmer C, et al., "Ginkgo biloba extract and long-term cognitive decline: a 20-year follow-up population-based study." PLoS One. (2013) 8:1, 527-555.