What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. Symptoms usually develop slowly and worsen over time, until they become so severe that they interfere with daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes the brain to shrink and nerve cells in the brain to die. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which is the persistent decline in thinking, behaviour and social skills that affects a person’s ability to live independently.
In the United States, about 5.8 million people with this disease are 65 or older. And 80% of them are 75 or older. Of the approximately 50 million people worldwide with dementia, it is estimated that between 60% and 70% have Alzheimer’s disease.
What are the signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease?
At first, a person with Alzheimer’s may have trouble remembering things and organising thoughts. A family member or friend will probably notice these symptoms and how they get worse. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary from mild to violent levels. Memory problems in Alzheimer’s patients are intensifying and exacerbating, and those with Alzheimer’s disease face the following problems:
- Repeating phrases and questions over and over again.
- Forgetting conversations, appointments or events.
- Losing personal items or putting them in irrational places.
- Confusion, not knowing time and place, getting lost in familiar places.
- Inability to identify and handle numbers, inability to read and write.
- Forgetting names of family members and everyday items.
- Difficulty finding the right words to define things, express ideas or engage in conversation.
Causes of alzheimer’s disease
There are many studies trying to identify risk factors for the disease, because to this day the main cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown. There are two common types of neuronal damage in Alzheimer’s patients:
- The build-up of a normally harmless protein called beta-amyloid can damage communication between brain cells.
- The internal structure of brain cells depends on the proper and normal functioning of a protein called tau protein. In Alzheimer’s patients, changes occur in the tau protein fibres that cause kinks and deformities.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:
A study by scientists at the University of Wisconsin, USA, revealed that cigarettes not only damage the heart and lungs, but also cause extensive damage to the brain. Several studies indicate that smoking is a risk factor for the onset of dementia.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with Alzheimer’s disease because they share cellular and molecular mechanisms. Insulin resistance is the link between the two diseases; having diabetes in early life doubles the risk of developing dementia. Because of the strong link, some researchers and physicians suggest that Alzheimer’s disease may be considered type 3 diabetes.
Regular physical activity makes an important contribution to an individual’s health, promotes and maintains an adequate weight and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Lack of physical activity is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Diet is part of a healthy lifestyle and affects the risk of various diseases and the ageing process in general. It is one of the most important modifiable environmental factors, and the way an individual eats affects their health and well-being.
Vitamins play an important role in cognitive decline and in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, so further studies are required to confirm their role in the aetiology of the disease, as well as the mechanisms through which they act, and it should be noted that they are dietary micronutrients or supplementation.
B vitamins (mainly B6, folic acid and B12) have been studied in relation to Alzheimer’s disease, due to their role as cofactors in homocysteine metabolism, and their deficiency is associated with an increase in homocysteine.
Ageing is the biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.It is not a normal stage of ageing, but the risk of developing it increases with age.
How to prevent Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented. However, lifestyle modifications can be made to avoid a number of risk factors that can lead to this disease. Evidence suggests that changes in diet, exercise and healthy habits, such as steps that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-causing disorders. Heart-healthy lifestyle choices that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Exercising regularly
- Eat a balanced diet of fresh produce, healthy oils and foods low in saturated fat, such as the Mediterranean diet.
- Follow treatment guidelines to control high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
- Seek help from a doctor to quit smoking, if you are a smoker.