Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, is not a normal symptom of aging. Most forms of dementia are not inherited. After all, dementia’s not a real disease; it’s just a description of symptoms that cause a decline in thinking or memory to severely affect a person’s day-to-day life.
Nevertheless, you worry.
Every time your mom or dad forgets an appointment or someone’s name, you’re concerned it may be a warning sign of dementia.
You worry because you love your parents, and you don’t want to lose them to such a terrible disease. And there’s that niggling thought in your head that if Alzheimer’s is caused by environmental toxins, you or your children may have been exposed, too.
Instead of—or, perhaps, in addition to—worrying, why not do all you can to prevent your parents—and yourself—from developing Alzheimer’s? Why not reduce their risk factors?
What Are The Risk Factors for Dementia?
Risk factor is a term that is thrown about quite frequently by scientists. It is nothing more than “an attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury.” A risk factor for a number of illnesses, including skin cancer, is age, because, while the disease’s genesis may have occurred when you were younger (those sunburns when you were a child), the disease did not occur until you were older.
The National Institutes of Health and other researchers have identified the following as risk factors for dementia:
Age. Approximately 1 in 70 people ages 65 to 69 have dementia. Almost a quarter of people ages 85 to 89 have dementia.
Alcohol use. Alcohol-related brain damage may be caused by drinking too much.
Atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries can lead to a stroke, which causes vascular dementia. High levels of LDL cholesterol have also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia.
Diabetes. Poorly controlled diabetes frequently leads to stroke, which can cause vascular dementia. There is some evidence that even controlled diabetes may lead to dementia, but it’s slim.
Genetics. Dementia is not inherited, but certain genetic factors may predispose your parents and you to developing dementia. Alzheimer’s Australia explains it: “The most important gene discovered to date is the Apolipoprotein E gene, which is found in chromosome 19. This gene occurs in three forms in humans: types 2, 3 and 4. Every person in the world carries two Apolipoprotein genes: they can be the same type (2,2; 3,3 or 4,4), or a mixture of two types (2,3; 2,4; 3,4). What has been found is that people with at least one type 4 and especially those with two, such as 4,4, are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease earlier in life than those with the other types of Apolipoprotein E. Nevertheless half of the people aged 85 who have 2 copies of apolipoprotein E 4 do not have symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease at that age.”
Hypertension (high blood pressure) and Cardiovascular Disease. High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease can lead to stroke, which may cause vascular dementia, so they’ve always been considered risk factors. However, new research indicates that the development of high blood pressure later in life may actually protect the brain from dementia. The study used data from people 90 years and older.
Depression. Scientists have several theories regarding the correlation between depression and dementia. One is that depression is an early sign of dementia, and the other is that depression damages the brain, leading to dementia.
Smoking. Smokers have a 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers. The World Health Organization includes second-hand smoke as a risk factor.
Head injury. Statistics show people aged 55 and older who sustained traumatic brain injury have a significantly increased risk of developing dementia. Among people 65 and older, mild brain injury increased dementia risk, according to a study published in JAMA Neurology. More than half of all cases of traumatic brain injury in older adults are caused by falls.
Overweight. If your parents were overweight or obese when they were in their 40s, they have an increased risk of developing dementia.
Risk Reduction Strategies for Dementia
Obviously, you can’t do anything about some risk factors, but you can reduce your and your parents’ risk of dementia by taking steps now. Alzheimer’s International advocates these 5 practices to reduce the risk of developing dementia:
- Exercise. A study in the United Kingdom found that physical exercise was the most effective way to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in otherwise healthy older adults. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of moderate-activity exercise each week.
- Nutrition. The Mediterranean or a vegetarian diet are proven to prevent cognitive decline.
- Cognitive training. Learning a new skill, playing video and other games, and participating in other mind-sharpening activities prevent dementia.
- Social activities. Engagement in social activities decreases the risk of dementia.
- Management of heart health risk factors includes keeping your level of “bad” LDL cholesterol low, normal blood pressure and weight, reasonable alcohol use, no smoking and even lowering stress to obtain optimal heart health.
The Esquiline Fosters Wellness
Physical wellness, intellectual wellness, and social wellness are not only methods to prevent dementia, they are three of the four pillars of well-being at The Esquiline. The fourth pillar, spiritual wellness, is not only based on scientific research showing how religion and spirituality enhance lives, but on our own history as a faith-based continuing care community that lives out the spirit and values of our founders, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Can our emphasis on physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual wellness enhance your parents’ lives? Find out by calling us at 800-533-6279 or contacting us online.