Each June, the Alzheimer’s Association sponsors Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month to call attention to Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
Today, more than six million people in America are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is expected to steadily grow. During the past decade, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 145%.
People with Alzheimer’s aren’t the only ones affected by the disease. Over 11 million Americans are providing care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Said Dr. Anne Schuchat, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “As the number of older Americans with Alzheimer’s disease rises, more family members are taking on the emotionally and physically challenging role of caregiver than ever before. These families need and deserve our support.”
Scientists continue to search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But until a cure is found, prevention strategies are the best hope. Can we lower our own risk? Some risk factors are beyond our control—most notably, certain genes and the greatest risk factor, age. But according to the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), there are other risk factors that we can do something about. They recently noted nine factors that account for more than 50% of the risk:
- High blood pressure
- Kidney problems
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- High cholesterol
- Coronary heart disease
- Inactive lifestyle
- Poor diet
We can lower our personal risk by:
- Getting enough exercise. Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise increases blood flow to the brain. It also lowers the risk of brain-damaging fall injuries.
- Eating a healthy diet. A diet that’s low in bad fats and processed foods and high in fruits, veggies, and healthy proteins helps protect the brain.
- Giving our brain a workout, too. Appropriate mental stimulation and socialization lower the risk of cognitive decline.
- Reducing stress. Stress causes an increase in hormones that can harm the brain.
- Getting enough sleep. Good quality sleep helps our brains remove harmful substances and store memories.
- Managing underlying health conditions. Diabetes, stroke, heart disease, depression, and many other physical ailments raise the risk of memory loss.
- Address hearing and vision loss. Recent studies show that a combination of the two is especially taxing for the brain. Have regular vision exams and get hearing aids if you need them.
These lifestyle improvements are better for our all-around health, as well. Ironically, note CDC experts, as the death rate from heart disease, cancer, stroke, and other conditions lowers, more people will live long enough to develop Alzheimer’s disease. So care and support for these patients will be an ever-growing need. Early detection is also important, allowing for care planning and treatments that could slow the progression.
And, says the CDC’s Christopher Taylor, Ph.D., “As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, caregiving becomes very important. Caregivers and patients can benefit from programs that include education about Alzheimer’s disease, how to take care of themselves and their loved ones, and case management to lessen the burden of care. Supportive interventions can lessen the burden for caregivers and improve the quality of care for people with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Increasing access to appropriate living situations and care for people with memory loss is also important. A recent study from Georgia State University emphasized that senior living communities for people with dementia should feature activities that are tailored to the individual. “The keys to improving quality of life for residents with dementia are getting to know them as individuals, meeting people ‘where they are,’ being in the moment with people, and viewing all interactions with residents as opportunities to connect,” said the experts. “Doing things that are enjoyable and being engaged to the extent possible and desirable are significant for the quality of life and quality of care.”
At Welbrook Santa Monica, we serve residents living with different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s, Lewy body, and many others. Our Memory Care program allows each resident to feel valued, successful, peaceful, cared for, and loved.