Q: A close relative of mine has Alzheimer's so the disease and its effects are very dear to me. What exactly is Alzheimer's and what causes it?
A:This is a very timely question because November is Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. Alzheimer's is a commonly known disease that affects the brain. With Alzheimer's, brain cells degenerate and die which causes a steady decline in memory and mental function. For most people, Alzheimer's results from a combination of genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.
Age, family history and genetics, sex, memory problems and lifestyle are all risk factors when it comes to developing Alzheimer's. The risk of developing Alzheimer's doubles every five years after the age of 65, and nearly half of those over 85 have Alzheimer's. The risk of developing the disease slightly increases if a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling or child) has been diagnosed. Women are more likely to be develop Alzheimer's disease than men, in part because they live longer, and people with memory problems, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have an increased risk - but not a certainty - of developing Alzheimer's.
There are no lifestyle factors that have proven to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, but some evidence suggests that activities that put you at the risk for heart disease might also put you at risk for Alzheimer's. Lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and poorly controlled diabetes are all risk factors associated with heart disease as well as vascular dementia, a type of cognitive decline caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain.
Early symptoms of Alzheimer's include forgetfulness and mild confusion and later on, development of Alzheimer's disease can have a greater effect on memory, ability to speak and write coherently, judgment and problem-solving. Brain changes associated with Alzheimer's lead to growing trouble with memory, disorientation, speaking and writing, thinking and reasoning, making judgments and decisions, planning and performing familiar tasks and changes in personality and behavior. Although everyone has occasional memory lapses, memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease persists and gets worse over time. People with Alzheimer's might:
Repeat statements and questions over and over.
Forget conversations, appointments or events and not remember them later.
Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations.
Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects.
To learn more about Alzheimer's disease and how you can help in the fight to end the disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association's website at www.alz.org. If you notice a friend or loved one experiencing any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your provider at Schleicher County Family Clinic by calling (325) 853-3137.