Newly developing treatment techniques and technology may bring a path for prevention, perhaps in particular among people with a genetic predisposition to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects a significant part of the American population over the age of 65. Alzheimer’s causes cognitive decline and early death in patients who deal with this illness.
A healthy brain uses neurons as transmitters to communicate information through a human’s body. When a patient develops Alzheimer’s disease, the brain suffers damage, and the neurons that communicate information from the brain through the body stop functioning optimally. When that happens, the patient will have a hard time developing new memories. Their cognitive abilities continue to decline steadily until their death.
What Are the Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s, like many other chronic health problems, appears to become a greater risk as people age. Anyone, but especially someone who carries certain genes, may be vulnerable to developing it simply by getting older.
While having a family member who has this condition does not guarantee that you will develop it, it is important to know your family history to assess your risk. For those with early-onset Alzheimer’s, there may be a stronger genetic component at play.
Scientists believe that other factors, from lifestyle habits to environmental factors, can also reduce or increase a person’s risk of developing dementia. Regardless of the causes, researchers seem to remain hopeful that there are preventative measures one can take, as explained below.
Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Learning the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease can be helpful as a part of prevention. Symptoms will vary based on the person, but some common initial signs of Alzheimer’s disease include the following:
- Significant memory loss that disrupts a person’s daily life
- Trouble keeping track of money, bills, and other financial responsibilities
- Mood swings and personality changes
- Difficulty maintaining personal hygiene
- Losing track of time
Risk Factors and Alzheimer’s Research
While there is not currently one definitive way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, promising research is emerging in better understanding the disease that may point to future possibilities for reducing one’s risk or slowing the disease’s progression.
A study known as the A4 trial committed to researching the ability of antibodies to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people older than 65. Its goal was to test whether decreasing the amount of the amyloid protein in the body with an effective antibody would help decrease the progression of memory loss associated with build-up of this protein in some patients.
Regrettably, researchers found that the drug studied in the trial does not appear to slow the onset of this disease. Yet the study seems to confirm that an elevated amount of amyloid protein in a patient’s brain does in fact advance memory loss.
Studies Regarding Genetic Mutations
The Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network is currently studying known genetic mutations that virtually guarantee carriers of the mutation will develop Alzheimer’s as they get older. These genetic mutations refer to the development of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease affecting about 1 percent of all Alzheimer’s patients.
Beta-amyloid plaque is located inside the brain and is suspected by researchers to cause cell and tissue death leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical trials led by these researchers are looking at drugs that may reduce the progression of beta-amyloid plaque buildup.
Benzodiazepines: A Word of Caution
People at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and people over the age of 65 may want to speak to their health care provider if prescribed benzodiazepines to treat anxiety or depression disorders.
Alzheimer’s interrupts the neurotransmitters in the brain that communicate messages throughout the body. Benzodiazepines are depressant drugs used to treat seizures, insomnia, and anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines release a neurotransmitter that tells the patient’s brain to slow down.
Long-term use of benzodiazepines could be dangerous, however, according to some research. This is an issue when older adults have been prescribed them as a treatment for anxiety and other medical issues. Yet other studies question whether these medications in fact cause dementia.
Heartburn Medication: A Possible Link
Prolonged use of certain heartburn medications may be connected to the development of Alzheimer’s in older adults. According to a recent study, longtime use of certain over-the-counter heartburn medications, such as Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid, suggest a link to a 33 percent increase in dementia risk compared with people who do not take these types of drugs. Further research, however, remains necessary.
Blood Pressure Medications: A Potential Plus
Meanwhile, another analysis suggests that patients who are controlling their high blood pressure with the use of prescription drugs may see a lower risk for developing dementia than patients who are leaving their hypertension untreated.
Air Pollution and Alzheimer’s?
Exposure over time to poor air quality may also have a connection to the development of dementia. Smoke from wildfires, traffic exhaust, and agricultural emissions may all be possible risk factors, researchers have said.
Technological Advancements in Alzheimer’s DiagnosisTechnological advancements in diagnosis may help researchers to understand more of the signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
One of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s is struggling with speech, whether it is struggling to find the words during a conversation or keeping up a conversation with someone. Speech patterns help doctors understand a patient’s level of cognitive impairment. Artificial intelligence could aid medical professionals in analyzing speech and language patterns that may help catch the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Other studies are exploring the effectiveness of diagnosing Alzheimer’s early with a headband device that monitor’s a person’s brain activity. Individuals may even seek out a simple blood test that is newly available for predicting risk of the disease.
Can I Reduce My Risk?While there is still no definitive way to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease, there are some lifestyle changes that may help reduce the risk of developing dementia, including the following:
- Eating a healthy diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals
- Getting regular exercise
- Doing brainteasers like puzzles, and crosswords
- Engaging in activities like playing instruments, doing arts and crafts, or becoming a part of a book club
- Keeping a journal
- Maintaining good sleep habits
In addition to the above, it is important to maintain an active social life, especially when you start to get older. Having good conversations and engaging with others can keep your brain activity up, help you avoid memory loss, improve your listening and communication skills, and promote overall well-being.