What is Alzheimer’s?
It is the cause of 60 to 70% of cases of dementia and is caused by the unusual build-up of proteins in and around brain cells. One of these proteins is called, ‘amyloid’, which forms plaques around brain cells.
Alzheimer’s can also cause another protein in the brain, ‘tau’, becoming tangled within the brain cells.
As brain cells become affected, the number of chemical messengers; neurotransmitters, can decrease, causing problems in sending messages or signals between brain cells.
As time progresses, different areas of the brain shrink. The first areas affected are those responsible for memories.
One sign of Alzheimer’s is someone losing their sense of smell.
This condition was discovered in 1906 by Dr. Alzheimer who discovered the above-mentioned amyloid plaques and tangles, in a post mortem performed on a woman who died after showing language problems, unpredictable behaviour and memory loss.
Alzheimer’s is most prevalent in Western Europe; closely followed by North America.
Japan has the least cases reported.
Nobody knows what causes this. However, the following are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- Anyone over the age of 65. Nevertheless, around 1 in 20 people who develop this condition are under 65. Horribly, Alzheimer’s can affect people as young as 40!
- It can be in the genes that you inherit from your parents but, the actual increase in the risk is small.
- Sadly, people with Down’s syndrome have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s because of the genes causing Down’s can also cause amyloid plaques to build up in the brain over time.
- Having cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and being obese.
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
- Loneliness or social isolation.
- Stress is believed to cause inflammation in the brain making it more susceptible to health problems like dementia.
Is there anything we can do to prevent us from getting it?
The following strategies can help:
- Stop smoking. Need I say more?
- Limit alcohol intake.
- There is some evidence that suggests rates of dementia are lower in people who remain mentally and socially active throughout their lives. Activities that may help are reading, learning foreign languages, playing musical instruments, volunteering, group sports like bowling, taking up new hobbies and enjoying an active social life. I wish!
- Finding ways to reduce your stress levels. And when you do, tell me about them!
- Exercise for at least 150 minutes a week.
- Take advantage of free blood pressure checks.
Foods to eat to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.
Obviously, eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day.
Again, my research takes me to the advice of following a Mediterranean diet. This diet includes fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish, unsaturated fats like olive oil and low amounts of red meat, eggs and desserts. Also, eat foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids.
Foods to limit or avoid.
- Processed cheeses and meats.
- ‘White’ foods like pasta, cake, rice, bread and anything that is high in sugar. These foods cause a spike in insulin production and sends toxins to the brain.
Sadly, my partner’s mother died recently of Alzheimer’s. (See photo below).
She had an active life and loved travelling. She went to New York with her family for her 80th birthday. Then, a couple of years later, she was diagnosed with it.
She was courageous and held onto her independence as long as she could. But inevitably, she needed round the clock care. Sadly, because of the COVID restrictions, firstly, she couldn’t see her family for a few months and then secondly, when she could, their visits were limited.
She died peacefully in her sleep. We all miss her.
So, I’m not saying the above measures will stop you getting Alzheimer’s but they’ll help you reduce the risk of getting it.
Hopefully, a cure will be found for it soon.
Sources: nhs.uk, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, alzheimersnewstoday.com, alzheimers.net, healthline.com, seniorlink.com, dementia.org.au