What Do You Need to Know About Alzheimer’s Disease?

11/06/23  3:00 PM PST

Alzheimer’s cases are on the rise. 6.7 million Americans aged 65 or older are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s in 2023. This is about 1 in 9 adults 65 years or older. This number increases with age, meaning that 1 in 3 adults 85 years or older are living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2060, the total number is projected to more than double, estimating that 14 million people will suffer from Alzheimer’s. With these statistics in mind, it is likely that you or someone you know will encounter Alzheimer’s at some point in life, whether it be you, a family member, a friend, or even a friend’s family member. It is important to know the signs and take preventative steps early in life.

What Do You Need to Know?

You often hear dementia and Alzheimer’s used similarly. What is the difference? Dementia is essentially an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that include a decline in memory, reasoning, or other thinking skills. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by cell damage and is the most common cause of dementia symptoms, accounting for 60-80% of cases.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive disease that involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. It begins with mild memory loss and can lead all the way to the inability to hold a conversation or respond to the surrounding environment.

There is no single cause of Alzheimer’s. Instead, there are several factors that can play into the disease. The biggest risk known today is age. Modern medicine has increased life expectancy, allowing adults to live longer. However, the older an individual gets, the higher their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Family history and changes in the brain are also known to be linked to the disease.

Early Signs You Should Look For

It is important to know the early signs of this disease. The earlier it is caught, the quicker treatment can be received.

Here are some of the early signs to look out for:

  • Memory loss disrupting daily life.
  • Trouble handling money and paying bills.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
  • Decreased or poor judgement.
  • Misplacing items or being unable to retrace steps to find them.
  • Changes in mood, personality, or behavior.

Preventative Steps You Can Take

1. Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Working to reduce your risk of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, has been linked to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Here are a few tips:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Keep alcohol to a minimum.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Exercise for at least 150 minutes each week.
  • Check and control blood pressure regularly.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure to stick to your diet and take your medicine.

Other factors that are not directly responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s but can increase the risk include:

  • Hearing loss.
  • Untreated depression.
  • Loneliness or social isolation.
  • A sedentary lifestyle.

2. Stay Mentally and Socially Active

Evidence has shown that maintaining a mentally and socially active lifestyle may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. You can achieve this by:

  • Reading.
  • Learning foreign languages.
  • Playing musical instruments.
  • Volunteering.
  • Participating in group sports.
  • Trying new activities or hobbies.
  • Maintaining an active social life.

The Future of Preventative Care

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Until recently, the disease could only be managed to help improve daily life for those living with Alzheimer’s. However, a new preventative drug called Leqembi was approved by the FDA on July 6th, 2023. Leqembi is an anti-amyloid Alzheimer’s disease treatment and is the first to qualify for coverage under Medicare. It is not a cure, but it has been shown to reduce cognitive deterioration by 27% over an 18-month period. This treatment must be prescribed and is generally available to anyone that qualifies under FDA rules and has been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s. However, it currently has a high price tag, putting it out of reach for many older adults, even if they have Medicare coverage. This drug is still new, with limited accessibility, but it may be something to keep an eye on in the future.

Though Alzheimer’s disease is often misconceived as being a normal part of aging, this is not true. It is important to know and be able to look out for early signs of the disease. Reach out to your doctor if you are concerned or have questions. It is never too late to start taking the necessary steps to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

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