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The Cardiologist's Wife - Risk Factors and Symptoms of Alzheimer's - Part 2 of This Series
Feb 08, 2019

In the February issue of Occasions, I began a three part series on Alzheimer’s by outlining some basic facts about the disease. You can read it by clicking on Jonesboro Occasions at the top, left of this page. Part two is about your risk factors and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Next week, part three will cover some prevention tips.

According to Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, chronic diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes are really the same disease manifesting in different forms even though traditionally we have thought of them as distinctly different diseases with different root causes and outcomes. But they all share the same underlying biological mechanisms - chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, changes in the microbiome and telomeres*. These mechanisms are directly influenced by what we eat, how we handle stress, the amount of exercise and sleep we get and our social interactions with others. It is important to know what the risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other diseases are so we can take steps to lessen our chances of developing these conditions.

These are the main risk factors for Alzheimer’s, many of which are shared by diabetes and heart disease.
-Vascular disease - research has linked heart health and brain health
-Diabetes - your risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases with conditions like diabetes
-High blood pressure
- Obesity - increases inflammation in the body
-Smoking
-Lack of sleep - adults need between 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night
-Being Physically inactive
-Poor diet
-Alcohol consumption - while light drinking, one or two drinks a day, can be beneficial to health, heaving drinking increases your risk
-Uncontrolled stress
-Social isolation
-Age - most individuals with the disease are 65 or older though there is the possibility of early onset
-Family history - you are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s if you have a parent or sibling with the disease and your risk increases with each additional family member with the disease
-Genetics - certain genes are involved in the development of Alzheimer’s
-Serious head injury - there is a link between head trauma and developing Alzheimer’s later

There is a difference between forgetting where you placed the car keys and forgetting what to do with the keys. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
-Difficulty remembering names and recent events or needing to rely on memory aids like notes
-Difficulty working with numbers or following a familiar recipe
-Difficulty with daily tasks like driving to a familiar location
-Losing track of dates or the passage of time
-Vision changes not related to problems like cataracts which involve judging distance, determining color, etc.
-Problems with speaking, following a conversation, using the wrong word for an object
-Losing things or putting them in unusual places
-Apathy and depression, withdrawal from hobbies, social activities or work projects
-Other mood or behavior changes like becoming easily upset, confused or suspicious
-Impaired judgement
-Disorientation or confusion
-Difficulty swallowing or walking

If you notice any of these changes in someone you love or in yourself, see your doctor as soon as possible. While there is no cure, with an early detection you can explore treatments that may provide some relief from symptoms or help you maintain your independence longer. You may also be eligible for one of the clinical drug trials or ongoing research for Alzheimer’s.

*Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Free radicals damage tissue and lead to aging while antioxidants keep free radicals in check. The microbiome is the collection of all bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses that live on and in the human body at any given time. Telomeres are basically the ends of our chromosomes that keep chromosomes from sticking to each other as well as protecting genetic information during cell division.

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