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?
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.
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.