Alzheimer's disease has no cure, but one expert says it may be possible to reduce the risks of developing the disease with healthy lifestyle changes.
There are two different types of Alzheimer's. Early-onset typically affects patients before age 65. Late-onset affects older adults.
"Early-onset dementia often is linked to genetics and can run in families," said Dr. Chen Zhao, a neurologist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "The cause of late-onset dementia is less clear, and most likely due to a combination of lifestyle, environmental and genetic risk factors."
Certain lifestyle changes may have benefits for brain health, which may then reduce the risk for dementia.
The strongest evidence is that physical activity, specifically, "aerobic activity, or exercise that gets the heart pumping, can help to maintain brain function," Zhao said in a medical center news release.
Other changes include following a Mediterranean or plant-based diet and getting better-quality sleep. Maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active may also lower your risk, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Social and mental stimulation strengthens connections between nerve cells in the brain, though why this happens hasn't been determined.
"Observational studies suggest that lifestyle impacts risk for dementia; making health-conscious lifestyle changes certainly helps to improve general health, well-being, and brain health as well," Zhao said.
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. With the disease, an abnormal protein builds up in the brain and spreads to other parts of the brain over time, Zhao said. Normal brain cells start to die.
This progression can lead to problems that affect one's day-to-day life, including short-term memory loss, getting lost, spatial and navigation issues, trouble making judgments and eventually trouble speaking or recognizing people.
Early warning signs include trouble remembering the names of old friends, and not feeling as sharp as usual. Later signs include getting lost, repeating the same stories and forgetting to take medications.
Any of these is a good reason to talk to a neurologist or seek a referral from a family doctor.
The Alzheimer's Association has more on the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's.
SOURCE: Penn State Health, news release, June 23, 2021