The man on the photo is my grandpa in his twenties. He was an engineer, intelligent and witty until he started developing symptoms of dementia. Alzheimer’s in particular. He couldn’t recognize our family, couldn’t remember whether he has eaten or not, couldn’t remember what year it was – 1980 or 2010. Seeing how Alzheimer’s changed one of the most intelligent men I knew, made me realize how vulnerable everyone is to this disease, including me.
I am afraid that I might forget how old I am, forget how to find a bathroom in my own house, and lose my ability to connect with others. And the worst part is – I might not even realize when it starts. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. It accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. But Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. And it can occur as early as in your 30s.
Women are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s, and the disease progresses almost twice as fast as in men. This makes it especially important for women to not only be aware of symptoms, but to pursue treatment options as soon as symptoms are noticed.
Sounds depressing but good news: there are strategies for overall healthy aging. They may help keep the brain healthy and may even reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. We are trying to practice them in our family. I hope that being aware of this disease can help you see early symptoms in you and your family.
- Monitoring health. Especially your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes negatively impact your brain health.
- Quitting smoking. Smoking has shown to increase the chance of developing Alzheimer’s by 80 percent.
- Staying physically active. Studies show that people who are physically active have a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Following Mediterranean diet. Research suggests a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — a transitional stage between the cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious memory problems caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
- Engaging in cognitive activities. For example, learn new languages. It helps enriching blood flow, enhancing the activity of neurons and putting more of your brain to use. This may make up for the loss of diseased parts of the brain.