Philadelphia, PA – In 2017, more than 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. By the year 2050, it’s estimated that number may be as high as 16 million, and anyone with a brain is at potential risk. Pennsylvania is 5th in the nation in the number of Alzheimer’s patients, and during the next decade that is expected to increase by 20 percent according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and is a disease that is often misunderstood. The month of June has been designated as Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, encouraging Americans to ‘Go Purple’ for better awareness and an eventual cure for this deadly disease.
Each year, Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. A person can live with the disease anywhere from a few years to a few decades, but the average patient lives with Alzheimer’s for about 9 years. Approximately 1 in 8 U.S. adults over the age of 65 has the disease, and women are more likely than men to be affected. There is currently no cure.
“While Alzheimer’s most often affects adults over the age of 65, it is NOT a normal part of aging,” says Russell Breish, MD, geriatrics and family medicine, Chestnut Hill Hospital. “It is a progressive brain disease that causes brain tissue to break down over time, and eventually results in symptoms beyond just memory loss. While there is a tremendous amount of research happening around the world, we still don’t know why one person at average risk gets the disease, and another doesn’t.”
Researchers do know that the symptoms caused by Alzheimer’s appear to come from two types of nerve damage. The first type is called neurofibrillary tangles, or a tangling of the brain’s nerve cells. The second type is called beta-amyloid plaque, or the build-up of protein deposits in the brain. Regardless of the type of nerve damage, it’s almost certain that genetics play a role – if your parent had Alzheimer’s disease, you are at significantly higher risk.
There are some steps that you can take to delay or avoid dementia from any cause, agreed on by virtually all medical experts.
- Hit the books. Formalized learning at any stage of life helps reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia of all types. Take a class at a local college or online. If you can’t engage in formal learning, take up crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or participate in a book group.
- Stop smoking. The evidence is clear. Among other things, smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline.
- Listen to your heart. Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – are deemed to be driving the increases in Alzheimer’s. Recent research shows an even clearer line between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Get your blood sugars in line and protect your heart, to protect your brain.
- Helmets on. Research shows a clear line between the incidence of brain injury and the eventual onset of dementia. Exercise and movement are critical to brain and body health. Roller skating? Great! But wear a helmet, and take general steps daily to protect your head.
- Choose high-grade fuels. Eat a healthy diet full of quality fruits, vegetables and healthy fats to ensure your brain gets what it needs.
- Get quality ZZZZ’s. Regularly failing to get 7-8 hours of good sleep, or suffering from insomnia or sleep apnea, is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s.
- Protect your mental health. There are some indications that a history of depression or anxiety can lead to early cognitive decline. Take steps to manage stress, and work with a qualified physician to address any mental health concerns.
- Be a butterfly. A social butterfly, that is. Staying socially engaged and happy is an indicator of both longevity and brain health. Volunteer, get a pet, or find a group of like-minded friends to learn and laugh with.
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information, because the disease’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As the condition progresses, the patient may experience disorientation, mood and behavior changes, difficulty speaking, and even suspicion of family and friends. Early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving regularly and rapidly, so it’s important to involve your physician as soon as possible when a loved one displays symptoms.
If you need an evaluation, or help managing your overall brain health, talk to your primary care doctor. If you are looking for a doctor visit WWW.MYCHESTNUTHILLDOC.COM, or call (215) 753-2000.
Chestnut Hill Hospital (CHH) is a community-based, university-affiliated, teaching hospital committed to excellent patient-centered care. CHH provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient, diagnostic and treatment services for our neighbors in northwest Philadelphia and eastern Montgomery County. More than 300 board-certified physicians comprise the medical staff and support medical specialties including minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgery, cardiology, gynecology, oncology, orthopedics, urology, family practice and internal medicine. Our comprehensive services include primary care practices, two women’s centers and an off-site physical therapy center. CHH is affiliated with university-hospitals in Philadelphia for heart and stroke care, as well as our hospitalist and residency programs. Chestnut Hill has 148-beds and is accredited by the Joint Commission.