November 23, 2022 by Peter B. Laird
Eight Simple Steps You Can Take Today to Help Prevent or Manage Alzheimer’s Disease
As part of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, Resource editors spoke with Fawad Yousuf, M.D., a neurologist with Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which is part of Baptist Health South Florida. Dr. Yousuf discussed the disease, what causes it…and steps you can take to prevent it.
Resource: What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Yousuf: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a gradual, progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain. This leads to neuroinflammation and neuronal loss. Aging is the most common risk factor for AD. Genetic role is identified in early and late onset AD. Others include traumatic head/brain injury, hypertension, depression and a family history of dementia.
Resource: Is Alzheimer’s considered a hereditary or a lifestyle disease?
Dr. Yousuf: Genetic factors certainly play a role – approximately 60 percent of AD is familial. Alzheimer’s also appears to be associated with Down Syndrome, which is a genetic disease. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance, poor diet and overconsumption of processed foods play a role.
What’s the difference between normal memory loss due to aging and memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Yousuf: Most of us get little more forgetful as we get older and will need bit longer to remember things, or have difficulty multitasking, mostly seen starting in the middle age, 40s to 60s. However, dementia from AD is a not a normal part of aging. Although memory loss is the most common sign of AD, individuals can experience problems with thinking, reasoning, language, visual perception and attention, and can exhibit personality changes. They may forget daily tasks and lose track of time, or they may have difficulty remembering words or carrying on conversations. These may be noticed by both patient and family members or caregivers.
Resource: What are the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Yousuf: The most common symptoms include memory loss, forgetting events, misplacing things, repeating oneself, and any sort of memory loss that disrupts daily living. Other common symptoms include having trouble managing finances, keeping up with personal hygiene, taking care of pets, or driving, shopping and other activities of daily living. Getting easily upset, using poor judgment or experiencing sudden changes in mood are also red flags.
Resource: What is the most common age for patients to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease? And does it impact men more than women?
Dr. Yousuf: Most people diagnosed with AD are in their sixties or older – one in 14 are 65-plus and one in six are 80 or over. Patients with familial AD will have signs of the disease appearing before age 65. More than two-thirds of Alzheimer’s disease cases are women. Risk for AD is associated with loss of hormones during menopause, so women who do develop AD can experience worse symptoms than men.
Resource: Are there any advances on the horizon for treating Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Yousuf: Unfortunately, there is no cure for AD. However, symptomatic treatment is available. There are half a dozen cognitive enhancers in phase two and phase three clinical trials, and there’s been a lot of talk about different medications to treat Alzheimer’s over the recent years, but we haven’t seen much action yet.
Resource: Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented? If so, what steps can someone take right now?
Dr. Yousuf: Risk factors that can be modified include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, excessive weight and diabetes. Studies show that as many as 80 percent of AD patients have cardiovascular diseases, so modifying your cardiovascular risk factors is a great place to start. Exercise helps increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain, which is beneficial in preventing AD. A healthy, low-sodium, Mediterranean diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and seafood can be beneficial. Avoid sugars and high-carb foods, which contribute to all sorts of disease processes.
Resource: What are the most important things Alzheimer’s patients or their caregivers can do to help manage their symptoms?
Dr. Yousuf: There are eight simple steps anyone can take to minimize their chance of developing Alzheimer’s or to support a loved one who has the disease. They are:
- Keep Your Mind Sharp: To forestall memory loss or the mental deterioration that comes with AD, I recommend engaging in “brain aerobic activities.” The most important thing patients can do is to read, which not only helps with learning about new information but mind is compelled to think outside of everyday tasks. Crossword puzzles, card games, music, arts and crafts are also great, because they stimulate the brain and give it a nice workout. Learning to play an instrument not only helps patients stay on task, it can help them learn new tasks and improve memory and attention. All of these activities are beneficial because they force patients to think outside of everyday tasks, help them multi-task and they can also build new neural pathways and connections in the brain.
- Get Your Daily Exercise: A study from Columbia University determined that individuals who exercised on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day grew new cells in the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain’s hippocampus in the temporal lobe that is related to memory function. Because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, it helps fuel the growth of these new brain cells, which are vital to improving or maintaining memory function. It’s also been shown that regular exercise can decrease stress and enhance one’s mood, even if it’s just going for a walk every day.
- Eat Your Fruits and Veggies: According to U.S. government estimates, approximately 75 percent of all Americans are not consuming adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. So I would encourage decreasing the amount of red meat in your diet and increasing your intake of seeds, vegetables and fruits.
- Take Your Supplements: Taking supplements such as omega-3, co-enzyme 10, other multivitamins have shown to help decrease the oxidative stress.
- Feed Your Mind-Body Connection: Activities like yoga and meditation are calming for the patient and create opportunities to engage with others, which can be especially beneficial for AD patients. Social connections and interactive activities are especially important. Having a friend or someone to talk to also stimulates positive emotions and helps with memory, focus, attention, speech and language, and make it a little easier for them to adapt to life with AD.
- Keep Changes to a Minimum: Staying in a familiar environment can be very comforting and helps the patient stay focused. Even small changes to their surroundings can trigger distress for someone with AD.
- Stick to a Routine: AD patients need to know what they can expect, and when, throughout the day. Whether it’s having a cup of coffee and watching television; sitting on the patio and reading the newspaper; talking with family on the phone; or taking care of one’s pet, they need to have daily routines. When they stray from their routines or from their familiar surroundings is when they can get confused and agitated.
- Offer Calm Reassurance: Hearing someone they trust tell them that everything will be fine, in a non-confrontational manner, is very important for patients with AD.