What is Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex and devastating neurological condition that affects millions of people worldwide.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month, established since 2012 to help increase awareness of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
It is one of the most common causes of dementia among older adults, robbing individuals of their memories, cognitive abilities and eventually their independence.
Years of research into this disease has discovered the key risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and what we can do in our lifetime to actively reduce our risk. So this Alzheimer’s Month, let’s work together to learn everything we can about the disease and how we can protect ourselves.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
1. Memory loss: One of the most known symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is the gradual loss of short-term and long-term memory. A person with Alzheimer’s may forget recent conversations, appointments, or important events and eventually, their ability to recognise their family and friends.
2. Difficulty in problem-solving: Alzheimer’s can impair a person’s ability to make decisions, solve problems, and plan daily tasks. Simple tasks that were once routine become challenging. e.g. making a cup of tea.
3. Confusion and disorientation: People with Alzheimer’s may become disoriented in familiar places and times, making it difficult for them to recognise their surroundings or the current date.
4. Language and communication problems: As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer’s may struggle with finding the right words, following, or joining conversations and expressing themselves coherently.
5. Mood and behaviour changes: Alzheimer’s can lead to mood swings, anxiety, depression, and personality changes. A person with Alzheimer’s may become agitated, aggressive, or withdraw from social interactions.
6. Decline in motor skills: Advanced stages of Alzheimer’s may result in difficulty with motor skills such as walking, swallowing, and performing basic self-care tasks.
Risk Factors and reducing the risk
The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is increasing age. Although age increases risk, dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Although we can’t change our genes or stop ageing, there are changes that we can make to reduce our risk of dementia. Here’s a list of lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of dementia, along with tips on how to mitigate these risks and lower your chances of developing it.
1. Physical inactivity
Engaging in regular physical activity is a highly effective approach to decrease your dementia risk. It benefits your heart, circulation, weight management, and mental wellness. Adults are encouraged to target either 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week.
Smoking significantly boosts the chances of developing dementia. Plus, it raises the risk of other health problems like type 2 diabetes, strokes, and various cancers. The good news is, it’s never too late to reduce your dementia risk by quitting smoking, even in later stages of life.
3. Excessive alcohol consumption
Misusing alcohol and consuming over 21 units per week raise the likelihood of dementia. Excessive alcohol use contributes to over 200 diseases and injuries. It’s also directly linked to various mental and behavioural disorders, as well as other noncommunicable diseases and injuries.
4. Air pollution
A growing body of research indicates that air pollution raises the chances of developing dementia. Decision-makers should prioritise efforts to enhance air quality, especially in regions with significant air pollution.
5. Head injury
Head injuries typically result from car, motorcycle, and bicycle accidents; military incidents; sports like boxing, football, and hockey; firearms and violent attacks; and falls. To minimise head injuries, policymakers should implement public health and other policy actions.
6. Infrequent social contact
We know for sure that staying socially connected lowers the chances of dementia. Being around others boosts your cognitive reserve and encourages healthy behaviours. While there’s not much proof that any activity prevents dementia, joining a club or community group is a great way to stay socially engaged.
7. Less education
Having limited education during early life impacts cognitive reserve and stands as one of the biggest dementia risk factors. Policies should place a high priority on ensuring quality childhood education for everyone.
Especially when middle aged, being overweight raises the chances of dementia. Obesity is also linked to other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), but it can generally be tackled by making lifestyle changes like improving your diet and increasing physical activity.
Having high blood pressure (hypertension) when middle aged raises the risk of dementia and other health issues. The only known effective way to prevent dementia in this case is by taking medication to manage hypertension.
Having Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of developing dementia later in life. It’s not clear if any specific medication can prevent this, but it’s crucial to treat diabetes for other health benefits.
Depression is linked to the development of dementia. It’s a symptom that appears before the diagnosis of dementia. We’re not sure if depression causes dementia or the other way around, but it’s essential to treat depression because it leads to more disability, physical health problems, and poorer outcomes for people with dementia.
12. Hearing impairment
Individuals with hearing loss face a notably higher risk of dementia, but wearing hearing aids appears to lower that risk. Since hearing loss is a risk factor that affects many people, addressing it could have a significant impact on reducing the number of individuals who develop dementia.
13. Poor nutrition and deficiency in carotenoids
Eating a diet rich in saturated and trans fats has been proven to raise the risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia. Research indicates that following a Mediterranean diet can enhance cognitive function. This diet involves eating lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fish, along with small portions of dairy, eggs, and red meat, and a moderate amount of red wine.
At ReMind, we take pride in contributing to the battle against dementia. Over the course of more than 25 years of scientific research, we’ve developed ReMind (known as Memory Health in the US). This unique food supplement represents the most up-to-date scientific knowledge about brain nutrition. It was recently used in the innovative Re-MIND clinical trial, which was double-blind and placebo-controlled, conducted at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI), South East Technological University (SETU). The results of this trial were published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and are recognised as providing strong clinical evidence for the significant role of nutritional supplementation in Alzheimer’s disease management.
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex and devastating condition that affects millions of people and their families worldwide. It’s never too early to learn about the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s equally never too late to take steps to reduce your risk. Let’s take a proactive approach to protecting our brain health and raise awareness together during World Alzheimer’s Month!
1. Nolan JM, Power R, Howard AN, et al. Supplementation With Carotenoids, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Vitamin E Has a Positive Effect on the Symptoms and Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2022;90(1):233-249. doi:10.3233/JAD-220556
2. Nolan, John & Loskutova, Ekaterina & Howard, Alan & Mulcahy, Riona & Moran, Rachel & Stack, Jim & Bolger, Maggie & Coen, Robert & Dennison, Jessica & Akuffo, Kwadwo & Owens, Niamh & Power, Rebecca & Thurnham, David & Beatty, Stephen. (2014). The Impact of Supplemental Macular Carotenoids in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD. 44. 10.3233/JAD-142265.