Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia. It has no cure, its symptoms worsen as it progresses and eventually it leads to death. It is most often diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, although so-called early-onset Alzheimer's can occur at a much younger age. Globally, Alzheimer's is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people by 2050.
Early Alzheimer’s disease is hard to distinguish from age-related memory decline. In the early stages, the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. As the disease advances, symptoms can include confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings, trouble with language and long-term memory loss. The patient then often withdraws from family and society. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death - typically within 7 years of the initial diagnosis.
Common early signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory loss - Although older memories may remain unaffected, people with Alzheimer’s completely forget recent experiences, important dates and events.
- Repetition - Alzheimer’s sufferers repeat stories, sometimes word for word. They also keep asking the same questions, no matter how many times they've been answered.
- Language problems - People with Alzheimer’s develop profound problems remembering even basic words. Their manner of speaking becomes contorted and hard to follow.
- Personality changes - Alzheimer’s sufferers have sudden mood swings, becoming upset or angry for no particular reason. They become withdrawn and stop doing things they usually enjoy - even becoming suddenly suspicious of family members.
- Disorientation and confusion - Alzheimer’s sufferers get lost in places they know very well. They develop trouble completing familiar tasks, like making tea, cooking dinner or shaving.
- Lack of hygiene - In the later stages, people with Alzheimer’s stop paying attention to their overall personal hygiene.
- Odd behavior - People with Alzheimer’s disease typically manifest unusual behavior, such as placing a toothbrush or keys in the fridge or milk in the cabinet under the sink.
Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors
Celiac Disease - Adults suffering from celiac disease - an allergy to gluten in grains, primarily wheat, rye, and barley - are particularly susceptible to dementia. When adults with celiac disease who exhibited serious cognitive failures were switched to gluten-free diets, some completely recovered their mental function. A blood test is a quick way to detect celiac disease.
Medications - Their side effects may seem like dementia in a senior citizen, but may actually be confusion or forgetfulness caused by drug interactions. Some common culprits include sedatives, hypnotics, blood pressure medicines and arthritis medications. As their metabolism slows with age, medicines tend to accumulate to potentially toxic levels in the liver and kidney of elderly people - who also often take multiple drugs that create complex interactions.
High blood pressure (BP) - Along with being dangerous for the heart, it can also increase the risk of vascular dementia six-fold and double the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the National Institute on Aging says that high systolic BP (over 140 mm) in midlife is a major predictor of dementia. A Japanese study that followed 550 people over 17 years saw a clear relationship between midlife BP and increased likelihood of vascular dementia. In another recent study, half of people over age 80 with impaired mental and cognitive ability were protected from dementia by controlling their high BP. Medications, exercise and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) are all proven to keep BP in check. Yoga and meditation can also be used to control stress and BP.
Sleep Apnea - Elderly women with sleep apnea - who hold their breath while snoring, disrupting deep sleep and cutting off oxygen to the brain - are twice as likely to develop dementia in the next five years as those without sleep apnea. This is a highly relevant finding as 20 million Americans have sleep apnea, while two-thirds of them are overweight. Men are more likely to suffer from it, but plenty of women have it too.
Gastric Bypass Surgery - can cause deficiencies in vitamins B6, B12, and E, iron and other deficiencies leading to dementias and neuropathy. It can also significantly lower the risk of Alzheimer’s - for example, morbidly obese patients experienced a 22% reduction in markers of Alzheimer’s six months after gastric bypass surgery. At the same time, up to 37% of gastric bypass patients develop vitamin B12 deficiency, which is strongly associated with dementia.
Diabetes - Over 17 million Americans have diabetes, doubling their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A Japanese study of 1,000 men and women over age 60 found that people with diabetes were twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s within 15 years, while their risk of developing any kind of dementia shot up 1.75 times. New evidence indicates that when the brain prevents insulin from acting properly, the ensuing chemical imbalance may trigger Alzheimer's disease. In fact, Alzheimer’s patients’ brains have been shown to be low on insulin and insulin resistant. People at high risk of diabetes who lost 7 percent of their body weight and exercised regularly slashed their chances of getting Alzheimer’s by a stunning 58%!
Poor vision - Older people with poor vision who visited an ophthalmologist at least once were 64% less likely to develop dementia, according to a University of Michigan Health System study. Medicare data for 625 elderly Americans were analyzed for an average of 10 years. Employing a scale that ranked vision from excellent (one) to totally blind (six), the study authors discovered that the odds of dementia increased by an average of 52% with each step up the scale. A simple eye test could prove to be a big help - when blood vessels in the retina are photographed, abnormal widths in pre-Alzheimer’s patients are revealed.