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Alzheimer's Dementia--Understanding, Preventing and Living with this Disease

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's is a form of dementia (also known as Alzheimer's Dementia) that occurs when portions of the brain's neurons (the brain contains approximately 100 billion of them) become damanged and fail to form communication networks. The reasons for this are still unknown. Damaged cells spread and eventually become destroyed, causing irreversible brain damage. While no cure is on the horizon, Alzheimer's is no longer brushed off as a normal part of aging as has happened in the past. Today's physicians are identifying symptoms and treating patients earlier on, thanks to increased awareness and understanding of Alzheimer's dementia.

Risk Factors for Alzheimer's

Age is still the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Only four percent of cases are diagnosed in individuals under 65, and are believed to be genetic in nature. Diet and lifestyle choices can play an important role in determining risk factors. Connections have been seen between Alzheimer's and smoking, vascular disease, and higher caloric intake. One positive change people can make as they age is to increase activity, even if it's just walking for a few minutes every day.

Alzheimer's and Heart Health

Smoking, like artery disease, decreases the body's ability to send oxygen and blood to the brain. If patients have vascular disease in the heart, they most likely have vascular disease in other areas of the body, including the brain.

Healthy Body, Healthy Brain

A European study reported a link between obesity and Alzheimer's, mentioning the importance of regular exercise and healthy weight for reducing risk of Alzheimer's. A Swedish study showed patients who were clinically overweight (BMI of 25-30), were 71% more likely to develop dementia. Guidelines from the National Institute of Health recommend seniors exercise at least 150 minutes each week, including strength, balance, flexibility and cardio exercises. A Mediterranean diet is also helpful, proven to decrease cardiac risks and inflammation. Scientists have speculated about a link between possible brain inflammation and Alzheimer's dementia. Also helpful is taking a regular Vitamin D3 supplement for people with a deficiency.

Treatment Options

Family doctors often diagnose and treat patients with Alzheimer's, often times coordinating ongoing support for patients and their families and caregivers. These cases usually take a lot of time, including lengthy meetings with everyone involved in the patient's care. Some things to address include home safety, driving concerns and guns in the home. It's common to meet with the entire family for an hour or more to address these concerns.

While no treatment is available to stop Alzheimer's, medications can be highly effective in slowing progression of the disease. Your family doctor can also help in working to prevent Alzheimer's from happening. As mentioned before, nutrition, activity and lifestyle can all play a part in preventing or slowing the progression of Alzheimer's.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

Source: Alzheimer's Association

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer's, don't wait. Call your family doctor today. Your doctor can diagnose the patient using tests and can help develop a plan for treatment.

At Leavitt Family Medicine, we are here for you, for all of your health care needs. Let us know how we can help you today!

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