Early Detection May Make a Difference
Statistics pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease can be grim. Five million Americans are living with the disease. That’s one in three U.S. seniors. Half a million will die from its effects this year and an estimated $214 billion will be spent on Alzheimer’s related care. However one light at the end of the tunnel may be early detection, targeting and treating the disease in its earliest stages. The idea is to identify the very first signs of Alzheimer’s and to begin treatment before irreversible brain damage or mental decline can occur. At the very least early detection gives families time to plan for care. The best scenario is that starting treatment early can prevent or greatly delay brain atrophy.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are 10 early warning signs to look for in yourself and your loved ones.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
The first symptom most of us associate with Alzheimer’s is memory loss. Your loved one may forget recently learned information but can also forget important dates or events, asking for the same information over and over and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks like using the microwave or recording a TV show. Sometimes, they have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
4. Confusion with time or place
People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it’s not happening immediately. They may even forget where they are or how they got there.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing.
8. Decreased or poor judgment
People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
10. Changes in mood and personality
The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.
Although there’s still more we don’t know about Alzheimer’s compared to what we do, much research is underway regarding proactive steps to ward off or delay the disease. For the most part, the things that are healthy for the rest of your body are healthy for your brain, including:
• Managing stress
• Getting regular physical exercise
• Eating a healthy diet
• Getting enough sleep
• Cutting down on alcohol consumption
• Eliminating tobacco
Here are some other lifestyle changes that are being researched which may help delay, slow down or prevent Alzheimer’s.
1. Minimize your intake of trans fats and saturated fats
“Bad” fats tend to increase blood cholesterol levels, which encourages the production of dangerous beta-amyloid plaques in the brain—a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. In recent research, people consuming the most saturated fat were found to have triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains
These foods are rich in vitamins and minerals that protect the brain, such as vitamin B-6 and folate. Studies find that a high intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline. A plant-rich diet also reduces your risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which can play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Eat foods rich in vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that’s been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Foods containing Vitamin E include nuts or seeds, mangoes, papayas, avocadoes, tomatoes, red bell peppers, spinach, and fortified breads and cereals. Note—taking a Vitamin E supplement doesn’t seem to offer the same benefit as obtaining it through food sources.
4. Take a B-12 supplement
Taking 2.4 mg a day of B-12, found in animal products and fortified foods, helps reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to cognitive impairment. In one promising study of older adults with elevated homocysteine levels and memory problems, B-12 vitamin supplementation improved memory and reduced brain atrophy.
5. Walk briskly three times a week for at least 40 minutes
Research suggests that regular aerobic exercise can reduce your risk for dementia by a whopping 40 to 50 percent. It’s good for the rest of your body as well.
6. Challenge your brain
Keep your gray matter buff by learning a new language, enrolling in a pottery or woodworking class, learning to knit, joining a dance, martial arts or wine tasting class or partaking in brain games, such as those found at Lumosity.com, reading and working crossword, jigsaw and Sudoku puzzles.
Find out more at the Alzheimer’s Association website at ALZ.org.
By Mimi Greenwood Knight