November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior- ultimately interfering with daily life. Dementia is a term that covers a range of medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.
Most people show the first signs of Alzheimer’s in their mid-60s. Brain changes characteristic of Alzheimer’s may begin a decade or more before any memory or cognitive problems are apparent. These toxic changes in the brain include deposits of proteins that form amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Healthy neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons and die. The National Institute on Aging describes the progression of Alzheimer’s as starting in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex (parts of the brain that play a role in forming memories). Other parts of the brain become affected over time as more and more neurons die causing brain shrinkage. Brain tissue undergoes significant shrinkage by the final stage of Alzheimer’s.
Although the cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, scientists think a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors play a role. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s but there are treatment options for symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish and olive oil is associated with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Other good health practices include: not smoking, consuming omega-3 fatty acids, and aerobic exercise. Being socially connected, exercising the brain by using thinking and memory skills (i.e. puzzles, learning new things, etc.), and controlling chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes is also protective.
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