Most people have heard of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but very few understand how these diseases can devastate someone’s life. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 6 million Americans age 65 and over have Alzheimer’s.
And this number will likely continue to climb in the coming years. Barring a medical breakthrough that leads to a cure, close to 14 million Americans will be living a life delineated by this neurodegenerative disease by the year 2060, notes the same NIH study. Switching gears just slightly, let’s turn our attention to dementia. The most recent study published by the University of Michigan found that 1 in 7 America aged 70 and over suffer from dementia. And this translates to about 3.4 million people or roughly 14 percent of America’s senior population over the age of 70.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Something to note when it comes to Alzheimer’s is that it often gets confused with dementia, which is not too surprising as it is a disease that can severely impact memory and decision-making abilities. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with what it means to live with Alzheimer’s. First and foremost, to the shock and awe of some people, Alzheimer’s is not a stand-alone disease but rather one of many forms of dementia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And it can alter the parts of the brain responsible for controlling thoughts, memories, and even linguistics, all of which can make day-to-day living exceptionally challenging. Some of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s include the following:
- Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- High cholesterol
Symptoms Commonly Associated With Alzheimer’s Disease
While memory problems and general forgetfulness are both hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s, they are not the only ones. Studies show that many people diagnosed with the disease may also experience the following:
- Getting lost in ordinarily familiar places
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Difficulty completing routine tasks either at work or at home
- Poor judgment
- Misplacing things and not being able to retrace steps to find them
- Significant changes in behavior, mood, or personality
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella medical term that encompasses several neurodegenerative diseases, and all of them can make it difficult to remember things. Further, they can also make it difficult to think and even make decisions. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, the following come under this umbrella as well:
- Vascular dementia
- Fronto-temporal dementia
- Lewy body dementia
- Mixed dementia
It is worth noting that dementia can also stem from several reversible causes, including side effects caused by certain medications, vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, or increased pressure in the brain. More often than not, resolving these underlying health problems can provide relief from dementia, according to many neurologists.
Symptoms Commonly Associated With Dementia
Whether we are discussing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the symptoms are pretty much identical until an individual develops what is known as late-stage dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, a well-regarded care and research charity for people with dementia based in the United Kingdom, individuals with late-stage dementia often exhibit the following:
- An inability to process new information or having the capacity to recognize time and place
- A severe inability to communicate with others
- Losing the ability to eat, walk, or go to the bathroom without assistance
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the CDC, the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown. But this is not to say that the medical and scientific communities have not come up with more than a few hypotheses. And these hypotheses explain why many doctors and scientists agree that age, smoking, excessive drinking, diabetes, genetics, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis can significantly increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s. The one thing that doctors and scientists have been able to determine with great certainty is that changes in the brain brought on by the development of the disease can occur years before symptoms ever present themselves.
What Causes Dementia?
Unfortunately, many people suffer from brain alterations that cause memory problems. Along with aging and poor lifestyle choices, these brain alterations that often culminate in dementia can stem from the following medical conditions:
- Huntington’s disease
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Multiple-system atrophy
Hormonal Health and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Studies show that three hormonal imbalances, in particular, can cause memory problems in older adults. The first one is testosterone. In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that low plasma testosterone levels, which refers to testosterone levels measuring less than 250 ng/dL, can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. And this was said to be especially true for men age 60 and older. In a separate study conducted between 1999 and 2013, researchers revealed a correlation between low estrogen levels in menopausal women and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Lastly, low human growth hormone (HGH) levels, although not directly linked to Alzheimer’s or dementia, can cause memory problems in older men and women. According to the National Institutes of Health, HGH levels that are too low, meaning levels measuring 0.4 to 10 and 1.0 to 14 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) in men and women, respectively, can adversely affect learning, memory, locomotion, psychological behaviors, and much more.
How to Prevent Dementia
According to several studies, making healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way toward keeping not only Alzheimer’s but also other forms of dementia at bay. These healthy lifestyle habits should include the following:
- Correcting a hormonal imbalance if you already have one
- Consuming a well-balanced diet
- Frequently engaging with others either online or in-person
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Monitoring and managing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
- Not smoking
- Reading or doing crossword puzzles to stay mentally sharp
Is There an Effective Treatment for Dementia?
Sadly, as of the writing of this article, there is no cure for dementia. However, several commonly prescribed treatments can help slow down its progression and, in turn, allow individuals to enjoy a much better quality of life. For example, many physicians will prescribe different types of HGH to patients if they believe their dementia stems from an HGH deficiency. Some of these medications include Saizen, Sogroya, and Humatrope. Likewise, many physicians will recommend hormone replacement to those suffering from cognitive problems, including dementia, brought on by low estrogen or testosterone levels.
In cases where dementia is not a byproduct of a hormonal imbalance, many physicians will prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors to their patients. In essence, these drugs prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain, which usually goes hand-in-hand with dementia. Studies show that patients with a higher concentration of acetylcholine in their brain typically benefit from better communication between nerve cells. And this improved communication between nerve cells helps to relieve many of the symptoms typical of dementia. Some of the cholinesterase inhibitors commonly prescribed by physicians include Aricept, Razadyne, and Exelon.
In summary, dementia, in all of its many forms, is a disease that can take a tremendous toll on someone’s life. Although there is no cure for it, there are things that we can do to lower our chances of developing the disease. And for those already diagnosed with it, you should know that several treatments can help slow the progression of the disease. As such, you will be able to enjoy a much better quality of life.