Learn to recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and how to lower your risk.
By Anna Lassmann, Photo courtesy of Delia Jervier
Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The top reason for this disparity in genders is due to the fact that, on average, women live longer than men, and age is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s.
But not all hope is lost for women. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and spreading awareness about the disease is part of the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association. Delia Jervier, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Capital of Texas chapter, says she wants more people to talk about the disease.
“Particularly now more than ever, we want people…to talk about the disease and for more people to be aware of how serious it is,” Jervier says. “But most importantly, [we want] to help increase the early diagnosis, and cognitive assessment helps with that.”
Catching the warning signs early can allow for better planning and discussions with patients and help avoid additional hospitalization that can come with a late diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The most obvious sign of early stage Alzheimer’s is memory loss, the kind that goes beyond forgetting where you set your keys,the kind that can really affect your day-to-day activities.
Examples include “leaving your home to go for a walk and not remembering how to get back, losing a sense of direction, making significant purchases such as purchasing one or two refrigerators because you forgot that you had purchased one last week,” Jervier says, “things that are impacting your daily activities on a consistent basis.”
There are still many things to be learned about Alzheimer’s, Jervier says, because research about the disease didn’t really begin in earnest until the past few decades, sparked in part by President Ronald Reagan announcing in a letter to the nation that he had Alzheimer’s.
There have been several studies that indicate ways to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s but not entirely prevent it.
“We do not talk about prevention because, as of today, there’s really not one thing that we can say, ‘If you do not do this, you will not develop Alzheimer’s disease,’ ” Jervier says. “However, we speak to the reduction of risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease.”
Jervier’s tips for helping to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease include:
•monitoring blood pressure. “Aggressive control of blood pressure reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, as well as reduces cognitive decline. So, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.”
•playing memory games. “We have also seen studies of things you can do to exercise your brain, such as crossword puzzles and doing a lot of reading and doing a lot of activity that gets one to think a lot.”
•practicing the Mediterranean diet. “We speak to the Mediterranean diet as a diet that can help reduce cognitive decline or help reduce the risk of developing the disease.”
How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet for Brain Health
This diet is not intended to help you lose weight and is more of a lifestyle change. It follows the food choices and eating patterns of people living in countries along the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Greece, France and Spain.
• Eat fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes and seafood.
• Flavor your food with olive oil and natural herbs and spices.
• Consume poultry and dairy in moderation.
• Avoid foods that are highly processed or have added sugar.