Showing posts with label alzheimers risk factors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alzheimers risk factors. Show all posts

Monday, February 27, 2023

Dementia - Are You Increasing Your Risk?

 Many aging seniors fear getting dementia, even more than they fear dying. In fact, Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia are two of the most popular health searches on Google. Although we all want to avoid slowly losing our memories and our connection to our loved ones, many people are not aware of what activities actually increase their dementia risk, and what changes they could make in their lives to lower their risk.  Fortunately, there are steps we can all take which will make us more likely to retain our mental capacity for years longer.  The first step is knowing some of the common causes of dementia, and how you can avoid them.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for all types of memory loss and cognitive decline, including Alzheimer's Disease, vascular disease, Lewy Body dementia, Parkinson's dementia, and other illnesses. Because there are so many different types of dementia, there are also a wide variety of activities which can speed up the process.  On the other hand, if we avoid certain behaviors and activities, we may be able to slow down the process enough that we retain our cognitive function for all of our life.

After reading the suggestions below, if you want more details on how to avoid dementia, you might try reading the book: "The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline." (Ad)

Dementia Causes We Cannot Avoid

Of course, there are some things which contribute to dementia which we cannot avoid.  The older we are, the more likely we are to have some cognitive decline. In fact, about one-third of people over the age of 85 have signs of Alzheimer's Disease, and the percentage increases as they get older. In addition, certain conditions tend to be genetic and we cannot change the genes we have inherited from our ancestors.

Even though we cannot change our genes or avoid getting older, it is still possible to change our behavior so these factors have less of an effect on our brains.  It is possible for many of us to reach extreme old age without serious cognitive decline, but the sooner we start, the more likely we will be able to save our brains from damage.

Risk Factors for Dementia

According to WebMD, there are a number of behaviors and health conditions which increase our dementia risk.  The more we do to improve our general health, the more we are also doing to reduce our dementia risk.  Here are some specific issues they emphasized:

Heart Disease and Strokes - Anything which increases our risk of heart disease, such as using tobacco, developing diabetes, or allowing high blood pressure and cholesterol to go untreated, will also increase our dementia risk.  A stroke, in particular, can cause serious damage to our brain.  It is important to follow our doctor's recommendations to avoid having a stroke and, if you have already had one, it is important to be even more aggressive in preventing another one.  Anything which is good for the heart is good for the brain. Anything which damages the heart, also damages the brain.

Diabetes - Diabetes can damage our blood vessels, and that can reduce the blood flow to our brains.  The reduced blood flow can lead to vascular dementia. It is very important to keep your diabetes under control with a healthy diet, exercise and medications.  

High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol - Letting these conditions go untreated makes you more likely to develop either vascular dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.  It is important to follow the instructions of your doctor so these conditions do not damage your blood vessels.  Get annual checks of your cholesterol levels, and monitor your blood pressure regularly at home. Contact your doctor if it gets too high.  If you are given medication, be sure to take it regularly.

Depression - Researchers have not determined whether depression causes dementia or if dementia is an early symptom of certain types of dementia, such as Parkinson's Disease or Huntington Disease. If you are depressed, talk to your doctor and see a therapist, if recommended.  In addition, taking medication for your depression may help.  Unfortunately, sinking into depression makes it less likely that you will take care of your general health, so depression definitely increases your dementia risk. 

Head Trauma - Not all head trauma can be avoided. For example, if you are in an automobile accident or a weather disaster, you may not be able to avoid injuring your head.  However, if you have played in a rough, physical sport or engaged in high impact activities which caused your head trauma, you could have up to four times the dementia risk later in life.  No matter your age, it is important to seek medical attention immediately for a serious head injury, especially if you pass out or experience blurry vision, dizziness, confusion or nausea.  An untreated concussion as a teenager could result in an increased dementia risk later in life.

Obesity - Few people realize that there could be a correlation between being overweight in middle age and having dementia later in life.  Talk to your doctor or join a healthy weight loss program in order to get your weight under control.  In addition to reducing your dementia risk, losing weight could also lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.

Poor Sleep - Do you brag about being able to get by with very little sleep?  Unfortunately, this could increase your dementia risk later in life.  If you do not sleep well, try to avoid alcohol, caffeine and the use of electronic devices in the evening.  If this does not help, speak with your doctor before using sleep aides.  You may need to be treated for sleep apnea, which also increases your heart attack risk and your risk of dementia.

Tobacco Use - Smoking and other tobacco use can increase your risk of a stroke and vascular dementia.  It can make it harder to think or remember past events.  The sooner you stop the tobacco use, the more your brain will benefit. 

Poor Diet - If your favorite meal is a big steak or giant hamburger, you might want to reconsider.  Instead, check out the MIND Diet for Beginners, (Ad) which is very similar to the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet. This book will get you started on a healthier lifestyle which could significantly help you postpone many types of dementia. Eating more whole grains, fruits, nuts, avocados and olive oil can significantly reduce your dementia risk.

Sedentary Lifestyle - If you want to avoid dementia, it is important that you keep moving as much as possible throughout your life.  Whether you like brisk walking, dancing, gardening, or just doing housework, the more you move, the lower your dementia risk.  You should try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. 

Lack of Brain Stimulation - The more you learned as a child and young adult, the lower your dementia risk later in life.  However, it is not necessary to have a formal education in order to stimulate your brain.  Become a lifelong learner. Read books.  Learn new skills. Play games which require some thought.  Do crosswords and other puzzles. The more your stimulate your brain, the lower your dementia risk.  Want a book to start with?  Try reading "The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline." (Ad)  It could help you avoid dementia in even more ways! 

Are you contributing to your dementia risk?  The good news is that it probably is not too late to turn things around. Take action now!

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Looking for a gift for yourself or a fellow retiree?  Perhaps you have an adult child or grandchild kand would like to celebrate a special event in their life. Give them this lovely pendant.  The card in the gift box can even be personalized with your own special message.  Just send me a message in my Etsy shop, and I will work with you to make a lovely gift for them!

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

The UCI 90+ Study at Laguna Woods Village

On May 4, 2014, the CBS television show, "60 Minutes" featured a study that is taking place in the retirement community where I live, Laguna Woods Village in Southern California.

The study is being conducted by Dr. Claudia Kawas, a medical doctor and professor of neurology at the University of California in Irvine.  However, the study actually started about 30 years ago ... long before Dr. Kawas was in Irvine.

Between the years of 1981 and 1984, UCI researchers sent surveys to the residents of Laguna Woods Village (then called Leisure World).  Nearly 14,000 residents completed them.  The surveys asked a wide range of questions over topics such as health, marital status, the activities in which they participated, foods they ate, vitamins they took, alcohol consumption, etc.

The average participant was 73 years old at the time of that first survey.  Two-thirds of them were women.  Most were white and about 40% were college graduates.   During the following years, the original group of participants were asked to update their information in 1982, 1985, 1992, and 1998.  Gradually, of course, the group got smaller.

Then, in 2003, UCI researchers took these dusty old folders off the shelf and decided to see how these people were doing.  They were able to find nearly 1900 of them who were still alive and in their 90's or older.  Approximately 1600 of them enrolled in Dr. Kawas' current study and agreed to submit to extensive testing. 

In addition, 306 people in this group agreed to donate their brains to the researchers after death.  So far, they have done autopsies on approximately 210 of those brains.

The research has been fascinating and I have summarized it below after watching both the "60 Minutes" episode as well as a YouTube video by Dr. Kawas.

UCI Research on Longevity:

*  Vitamin consumption did not seem to help people live longer, although it may help in other areas, such as preventing fractures, etc.

*  Drinking a glass or two of alcohol of any type (not just red wine) occasionally (not necessarily daily) seemed to help people live longer.

*  Caffeine from all sources, including soft drinks, chocolate, tea and coffee did make a difference.  People who consumed about 200 mg. of caffeine a day (2-3 cups of coffee) seemed to live longer.  People who consumed too much or too little did not live as long.

*  Being of average weight or heavier seemed to be protective; being too thin was associated with an increased risk of early death.  People who were underweight in their 70's had a 50% increase in their mortality rate.  People who were of normal weight or overweight in their 70's had a 3% lower mortality rate for each year they lived.

*  While having low blood pressure was healthier for younger seniors, having high blood pressure seemed to benefit those who are over the age of 90.

*  It was beneficial to stay mentally, physically and socially active as long as possible.  About 45 minutes a day of physical activity seemed to help people live untill their 90's.  More time spent in exercise did not make a difference.  In addition, the activity did not need to be intense in order to benefit this age group.  It did not have to be jogging and it did not have to be all at once.  It could be broken up into two or three periods of activity a day.

*  As for leisure/social activities, those were also associated with a longer lifespan.

UCI Research on Dementia:

*  There are more than 100 pathologies that can lead to dementia.  Alzheimer's is only one form of dementia, although it is one of the most common.  The more different pathologies you have, the higher your risk of developing dementia.

*  Researchers have long believed that plaques and Amyloid tangles in the brain are related to Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia.  However, the brain autopsies that have been completed to date are bringing this into question.  So far, half of the people with dementia had plaques and tangles, while half did not.  In addition, the reverse has also been true.  Half of the people without dementia had plaques and half did not.  Dr. Kawas is now concluding that plaques and Amyloid tangles may not be as closely related to Alzheimers and other forms of dementia as we first thought, although there is still some reason to believe that it does matter.  Researchers are concluding that dementia is more complicated than they first thought.

*  Three or more microinfarcts or mini-strokes in the brain can multiply your chances of having dementia by five times.

*  Age seems to matter the most in regard to dementia.  By age 85 about 5% have dementia; at 90, 10% of all seniors have dementia; by age 95, 20% have dementia; by 100, 40% have dementia.

*  Low oxygen levels in the blood, especially below 93%, doubled your chances of developing dementia.

*  Low walking speed resulted in an eleven times great risk of dementia.

*  People with a weak hand grip had a five times greater risk of dementia

*  High blood pressure and high cholesterol apparently REDUCES your chances of dementia (although these are still related to a higher incidence of heart disease and strokes).  Researchers are now studying whether it is the blood pressure and cholesterol themselves, or if it is the drugs that are given for these illnesses, that provide the protection.

This report was fascinating ... and they are not finished, yet.  They intend to continue studying this group of people until they have all died.  Who knows what other incredible facts are still to be discovered?

If you want to watch the entire "60 Minutes" episode for yourself, which also includes an update on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, you can find it here:

If want to see an even more in-depth lecture by Dr. Kawas, here is a YouTube video of her giving a guest lecture at the University of California in Davis:

If you are looking for more interesting information to assist you with aging and retirement, use the tabs at the top of this blog.  They contain links to hundreds of articles to help you.

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Photo credit:  Photo of a clubhouse at Laguna Woods Village was taken by author, Deborah-Diane.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Alzheimers Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatment Options

Did you know that the U.S. government has a website devoted to providing information specifically about Alzheimer's Disease?  There are also other websites that provide valuable information to the families of people who are suffering from Alzheimer's. 

These resources are especially important because the U.S. government estimates that there are over five million people in the United States who are currently living with Alzheimer's Disease.  As Baby Boomers age, the number of these patients is expected to increase dramatically to 15 million by 2030.

Alzheimers is the most common type of dementia.  It causes behavioral problems as well as memory loss.  Eventually it can lead to death.  The more we know about this serious illness, the better prepared we will be if it affects someone we love.

Reliable Alzheimer's Disease Websites

First, everyone needs to know how to find reliable and current information online.  Below are two websites, one from the government and one from the Alzheimer's Association.

The remainder of this article summarizes the detailed information that can be found on these websites.

Like many of you, my family has also been affected by this tragic disease and we have seen the effect it can have on both patients and their families.  Everyone should be familiar with the symptoms and treatment options.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

It can be difficult to diagnose Alzheimer's because the symptoms can be similar to those caused by other health problems.  Here are the most common symptoms:

Memory loss
Trouble finding words
General disorientation
Difficulty making decisions
Changes in behavior and personality (often this can mean hostility, becoming suspicious, or exhibiting anger)

The longer the person has the disease, the more likely they are to also exhibit some of these additional problems:


If you are the caretaker of a person with Alzheimer's, it can be exhausting to continually watch over them, especially if they become agitated and angry.  It is very important that caregivers seek outside assistance.  They also need to take care of their own physical and emotional health without feeling guilty.  Caregivers need to be able to leave the patient with others while they spend time in relaxing and enjoyable activities.

Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease

Although there is no clear cause of this disease, there do seem to be certain factors that make us more likely to develop Alzheimer's.  However, even if you have several of these risk factors, there is no guarantee than you will develop the disease.  There is still a great deal about Alzheimer's that is not understood.  The most common risk factors are shown below, and are frequently beyond our control:

Aging (the frequency doubles every five years after age 80)
Downs Syndrome
Other intellectual or developmental disorders
Repeated concussions in the past
A traumatic brain injury

Alzheimer's Treatments

There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but there are some medications that seem to delay the symptoms and may even improve the patient's quality of life:

Cholinesterase Inhibitors and Memantine

These drugs, which are sold under the names Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, Cognex and Namenda, help treat memory loss, confusion and similar problems with reasoning and thinking.

In some cases, high doses of Vitamin E may also be prescribed.

Other Medications

In addition, medications may be prescribed to help with other symptoms of Alzheimer's, such as depression, insomnia and anxiety.  While these do not stop the progression of the disease, they may make the patient happier and improve their quality of life.

If you are interested in learning about dementia, Alzheimers and aging you may be interested in reading these excellent articles:

The Mind Diet Reduces Alzheimer's Risk:

Is it Alzheimer's or a Treatable Disease?:

How to Talk to Someone with Alzheimer's:

The UCI 90+ Study at Laguna Woods Village

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