Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed. It is a very serious disease of the brain. It is very complex and the exact cause is still unknown. What we know about the disease is that it breaks down connections among brain cells and causes these cells to die. Over time, this affects how a person can remember, think, and use proper judgement. Behavior changes can occur and even close family and friends can be forgotten. In the end stages, it even destroys the ability to function and carry out the simplest of tasks. The disease progresses gradually and different for every person so if symptoms of memory loss or confusion happen quickly and over a matter of days, the cause is often unrelated.
The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer who noticed changes in brain tissue of a woman who died with a mental disease including memory loss, language problems, and behavior changes. After she died, her brain was examined to have had many large clumps now known as amyloid plaques and tangled bundled of fibers called neurofibrillary. Many people wonder and question if this is a disease that can be passed through family. Your chance of having the disease does become higher if you have had a parent with or family history of the disease, but that does not mean you will develop it. Every human cell is made up of DNA. DNA is made up of chromosomes which include many segments of genes. Genes that make up your unique self are passed down from your birth parents. Those genes carry information that define your characteristic traits such as hair color, eye color, height, and so much more. Not only that, genes play a role in our bodies to keep our cells healthy. When there become problems with those genes is when diseases develop. There could be a gene mutation where a disease will present itself or a variant where the disease could possibly present itself depending upon other risk factors and is known as a genetic risk factor. A couple risk factors for developing the disease, but are not sure causes, include:
family history (genes passed down from parents)
a person’s health habits such as unhealthy diet or lack of exercise
environmental factors (viruses and food-borne toxins are thought to play a role)
increasing age although not a normal part of aging
sex (more woman are diagnosed with the disease)
past head trauma
Early onset Alzheimer’s can develop between the ages of 30-60 and is thought to be more genetically related. Late-onset Alzheimer’s is more common and usually develops in mid-60’s or later. The cause is unknown, but thought to be related to genes, lifestyle, and environment. If you are worried about changes in your memory or problems with thinking, please speak with your doctor. You are often the first to realize if you are becoming more forgetful or absent-minded. Be aware of your body and changes in your body and let your physician know of those changes. Your physician can assist you with positive changes in lifestyle and health, medication, and teach ways to monitor the progression of the disease.
If you have risk factors for the disease, there are steps you can take to keep your brain and body as healthy as it can be. Your physician will speak to you about some of the changes, but here are some we have highlighted for you:
eat a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables
spend time and engage with family and friends
keep your mind active with reading and puzzles
control type 2 diabetes
keep blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels
maintain a healthy weight
get help for depression
avoid drinking excessive alcohol
get plenty of rest and sleep
For more information, visit The National Institute on Aging at https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet.