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Can you prevent Alzheimer's disease?

What we need to learn about Alzheimer's and related dementias
Aging with Grace

If you’re like me, every time you forget your keys or the name of a favorite actor playing in an old movie, you start worrying that you’re starting down the long slide to dementia, if not Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s and dementia are actually very different issues. Dementia refers to a set of symptoms that include memory loss, impairment of judgment, and difficulty with language. Alzheimer's is a brain disease that accounts for 60 to70 percent of the cases of dementia, but other disorders such as vascular disease and Parkinson’s can also cause dementia.

Over 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. And experts estimate that with our aging population, the number of cases will more than triple to over 16 million by 2050.

It’s not surprising that the main risk factors for Alzheimer’s are the same ones that put you at risk for heart disease and overall poor health. The study named seven main pathways to Alzheimer’s: physical inactivity, depression, smoking, mid-life hypertension, mid-life obesity, low education, and diabetes.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease is still a mystery to medical science. Although there is clearly some genetic component, researchers do not understand what really causes the disease or even exactly what it is. Amyloid plaques are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. But do the plaques cause the disease, or are they merely a symptom? Doctors are working on tests to predict whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s, but so far there is nothing definitive.

So if you want to prevent Alzheimer’s, stop smoking, get treatment for depression or anxiety, and engage in some sort of physical activity like walking, biking, dancing, or swimming. Go take an adult education class at your community college, join a bridge club, or start doing crossword puzzles. And if you’re overweight, shed some of those extra pounds.