Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease: How to Prevent Cognitive Decline

We all experience lapses in memory now and then, especially as we age. For most of us, these minor cognitive issues are usually just annoyances. But if your cognitive issues are interfering with your daily life, they could be the beginning of something far more serious. Read on to learn more about the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and how you can preserve your cognitive health.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease? Early signs and symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that impacts a person’s ability to think, reason, and remember. It can severely impact quality of life as it progresses, eventually becoming completely debilitating. The most common type of Alzheimer’s disease is late-onset Alzheimer’s disease with symptoms usually emerging in a person’s mid-60s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, ten early warning signs of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • 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

 

If you’re experiencing a cognitive problem that impacts your daily life, don’t ignore it.
Dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can take action against cognitive decline.

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how Alzheimer’s disease forms or why some people have a greater risk of developing it than others. It’s an active area of study, and researchers are discovering new things every day. The general consensus among scientists is that a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s take a look at some of the factors below:

Old age does not directly cause Alzheimer’s disease, though the risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after age 65. Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men, though this might be due to the fact that women live longer than men.

People with Down’s syndrome also carry a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and so do those with certain conditions like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Suffering from a traumatic brain injury can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and put you at risk for other cognitive problems later in life. High levels of inflammation are associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Eating a diet full of inflammatory foods like processed sugar might exacerbate the risk of developing inflammation in the brain.

Certain environmental factors can also influence the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Exposure to environmental pollutants has been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke can also increase the risk of cognitive decline. Just another excellent reason to quit.

Harmful structures in the brain

Scientists typically focus on two different protein structures in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease: Neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. It’s not currently known whether the presence of these structures causes Alzheimer’s disease, or if they’re simply byproducts of it. Both can impair cognitive function and can worsen as the disease progresses.

Neurofibrillary tangles are accumulations of a harmful protein called tau in the brain’s neurons. These tangles can inhibit the neuron’s ability to communicate with each other, causing cognitive decline. Some studies reveal that a lack of oxygen in the brain is associated with neurofibrillary tangles.

Amyloid plaques are hard, insoluble clumps of beta-amyloid proteins that build up between neurons. Like neurofibrillary tangles, These plaques are toxic to brain cells and disrupt cel-to-cel communication. They can eventually result in cellular death, inhibiting cognitive abilities even further.

Brain scans can reveal the presence of both protein structures, which can alert your doctor to the presence of Alzheimer’s disease or that you’re at risk for developing the disease.

Is Alzheimer’s genetic?

Both early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease have a genetic component, meaning that If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s, you carry a greater risk factor for developing the disease than someone who doesn’t.

The risk factor is greater if an immediate family member suffers from the disease, such as a parent or sibling. 

Genetics are almost always the primary contributing factor of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which usually occurs around age 30 or 40. Researchers have yet to identify any specific genes responsible for the development of late-onset Alzheimers. However, certain mutations of the APOE gene, which are found in chromosome 19, can contribute to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The specific gene mutation APOE ε4 is associated with higher levels of amyloid plaques and is often found in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Genetic testing can reveal the presence of any gene mutations that put you at risk for cognitive decline.

Your doctor may order genetic testing if you have a family history of cognitive problems or early-onset dementia. 

This doesn’t mean that you’re destined to develop Alzheimer’s if a parent or sibling had it, however. Some people who possess the APOE ε4 gene never develop Alzheimer’s disease, and some people with Alzheimer’s don’t have any gene mutations at all. Genetics is just one of many Alzheimer’s risk factors, and we still need more research to get the full picture.

How can I prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

Risk factors for Alzheimer's - older woman stretching

While none of us can change our genetic makeup, we can change our lifestyle. Practicing healthy habits can help lower your risk factor for nearly any disease, not just cognitive-related conditions. Lowering inflammation levels in your body can also help lower inflammation in the brain. Some of the things you can do to preserve your cognitive health include:

  • Eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining healthy blood pressure
  • Keeping your mind active
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation
  • Avoiding excess alcohol
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Getting plenty of restful sleep
  • Taking care of your mental health

Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy (HBOT) has also shown promise as a potential preventative measure for biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research has demonstrated that HBOT can shrink existing amyloid plaques in the brain and even prevent new ones from forming altogether. The same study revealed that HBOT was also able to improve memory recall in people who suffered from mild cognitive impairment, giving us hope that HBOT might one day become a viable drug-free method for preventing cognitive decline.

Conclusion

While we still have a lot to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, anyone can lower their risk factors by taking charge of their lifestyle. Eating right, staying active, and challenging your brain are all viable tools in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Preserving your cognitive health starts with the choices you make every day.

Take care to maintain your health while scientists continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s and search for a cure.

Blood Pressure and Brain Health

We all know how dangerous high blood pressure is. It’s directly linked to problems like heart disease and strokes. But there’s a side effect to having high blood pressure that doesn’t always get talked about in mainstream studies: cognitive decline.

Nearly one in three Americans and nearly two-thirds of adults aged 60 and older suffer from high blood pressure, making it one of the most notorious killers in the United States.

Having high blood pressure can directly affect your cognitive function, causing problems like brain fog and forgetfulness. It can even lead to more serious cognitive issues like vascular dementia. Fortunately, there are actionable steps you can take to manage your blood pressure, no matter your age. There are also treatment options, such as the research-based hyperbaric oxygen therapy program at Aviv Clinics, that target post-stroke and age-related cognitive decline.

What is high blood pressure?

Every blood vessel in your body requires a certain amount of pressure to stay intact. Without it, they’d collapse on themselves like a vacuum. It’s when your blood pressure wanders outside of the acceptable range that health problems start to happen. Low blood pressure is called “hypotension” and can cause problems like dizziness or fainting.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is common in the United States because of our high cholesterol diets, sedentary lifestyles, and high-stress levels. The higher the blood pressure, the greater your risk for health problems, like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It also increases your risk for cognitive problems later in life.

What’s an acceptable blood pressure?

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, (mm and Hg). The upper number, systolic pressure, measures your heartbeats. The lower number, diastolic pressure, measures the time that your heart relaxes between beats. Normal levels of blood pressure are different for every person and depend on factors like age and weight. According to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, Stage 1 hypertension occurs at 130/80 mm Hg and Stage 2 hypertension occurs at or above 140/90 mm.

Unlike other health problems, high blood pressure is unique because it doesn’t present symptoms on its own. No one ever goes into the doctor’s office specifically because their blood pressure is too high. The only way most people even discover that their blood pressure is too high is when something more serious happens, like a clot. The only way to know if your blood pressure is at a healthy level is to measure it with a blood pressure machine at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or on a home blood pressure machine.

  • Tip: A home blood pressure device is a worthwhile investment to monitor your health. High blood pressure may be a symptom of another illness. It’s always helpful to know what’s happening in your body when it comes to blood pressure and brain health. Take your measurements at the same time every day for consistency, as your blood pressure will naturally rise and fall during the day.

 

How does high blood pressure affect the brain?

While the exact connection between hypertension and brain function is still a little fuzzy, scientific studies are helping to clear the fog. In this study, around 3,700 Japanese-American men living in Hawaii were randomly tested on their cognitive performance. The men averaged around 78 years in age and their blood pressures had already been logged in detail years prior, as a part of previous studies.

After adjusting for biases like prior education and age, the men who performed the poorest on the test were those who had experienced high blood pressure in middle age, suggesting a direct connection between hypertension and cognitive decline later in life. More recent studies have helped to reaffirm this connection, suggesting that high blood pressure and cognitive decline go hand in hand.

Another way high blood pressure can affect your brain is through vascular dementia, a type of dementia caused by blood flow problems in the brain. Patients often experience the same cognitive symptoms as those who suffer from other types of dementia, including confusion and memory loss. Having high blood pressure directly increases your risk of developing vascular dementia because of the strain it puts on your brain’s blood vessels, making it difficult for the brain to get the oxygen it needs to function properly.

Fortunately, vascular dementia can be improved through hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), such as the type available at Aviv Clinics in central Florida. HBOT works by delivering oxygen directly to the brain in a pressurized environment. This allows the damaged blood vessels in your brain to heal, helping you regain your cognitive functions.

What can I do to prevent high blood pressure?

While medication is often the first thing people think of when it comes to treating their blood pressure, healthy lifestyle choices are really the best medicine. And while it’s always better if you can correct these problems sooner in life, you can still make a positive change to improve your hypertension if you’re an older adult.

The absolute best things you can do for your high blood pressure and brain health are to follow these 5 main steps.

  1. Eat a clean diet of whole foods
  2. Exercise
  3. Sleep well
  4. Engage your mind
  5. Reduce and manage your stress levels

Managing stress levels is especially important for blood pressure and brain decline because high levels of stress increase cortisol production in the body. Having elevated cortisol levels in your body raises blood pressure. And effects of cortisol on the brain can include brain fog, confusion, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, and even more cognitive problems.

Some things you can try to calm your body are soothing activities like yoga or meditation. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you stay grounded in the present moment, and scientific studies have proven its effectiveness in managing stress levels. Yoga is also an excellent choice because it combines the principles of mindfulness with exercise, a two-for-one benefit!

If neither of these activities is quite your speed, pick another relaxing activity. Just about anything will do: golfing, gardening, reading a book, or even playing a video game with your grandchildren. Having fun is the important part. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, your stress levels will naturally go down, and the pressure in your body will ease.

Conclusion

While it is a dangerous condition, especially later in life, it is possible to manage high blood pressure and brain health by making healthy choices in your life. It’s never too late to start!