We look at what Alzheimer’s Disease is, how it is caused, and how it is treated. We then explore how Alzheimer’s might be able to be prevented with research-backed methods and take a look at what prevention studies are currently taking place.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that causes problems with memory, human behavior, and thinking. It’s a progressive condition and there are more than 3 million cases per year in the United States alone. Though there is no cure, treatments are constantly being reviewed and developed and there might even be prevention methods worth trying if you know Alzheimer’s runs in the family.
So what are these prevention methods and are they backed by research? This is what we explore in this article as well as dive into what causes Alzheimer’s and how it is treated.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that affects memory and basic thinking skills. It eventually destroys the ability to carry out simple tasks and it is the most common cause of dementia in older adults.
It is categorized as a progressive disease and usually begins with mild memory loss. Most people find late-onset type symptoms appear in their 60s but early-onset Alzheimer’s occurs when a person is around 30-60 years old.
Memory problems are the main sign of Alzheimer’s Disease, yet initial symptoms might vary by individual. Thinking skills might also decline and patients might have trouble finding the right words, experience vision or spatial issues, and have impaired reasoning or judgment in the early stages of diagnosis. Mild Cognitive Impairment can also be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s.
People with Alzheimer’s have trouble doing everyday things, they might ask the same questions repeatedly and might get lost easily, or lose things easily. As the disease progresses and worsens, some people become overly worried, angry, and in some cases may even turn violent. A change in mood, behavior, and personality is common.
The time a person has from diagnosis to death varies from 3-4 years if the person is over 80, to 10 or more years if the person is a lot younger than this. It is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and currently, there is no cure.
However, in recent years, science has seen progress in developing new treatments for the disease and several different medicines have recently been approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
How is Alzheimer’s Disease Caused?
Alzheimer's Disease and other chronic conditions are known to develop as a result of varying different factors. These factors range from genetics to age, to environment, to inflammation in the brain, to coexisting medical conditions or vascular risk factors, and overall lifestyle.
Some risk factors however are considerably higher than others and cannot be changed. Examples of these are age and genes. Age is the most common cause of Alzheimer’s, followed by family history.
Other factors can be changed and can be a key preventative measure. High blood pressure for example can be changed to reduce risk and you can add more exercise into your routine, as well as change your lifestyle.
How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Scientists have been studying the onset of Alzheimer’s for years and so far, they are still studying and trying to come up with proven methods to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s. However, researchers in the field have come up with promising prevention methods and strategies that we are going to explore in the next section.
Changes in the brain occur years before the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear, and therefore prevention strategies are sought after, especially by those with a family history of the disease. The early changes in the brain open up a window for preventing or delaying memory loss and other early symptoms.
Prevention methods range from drugs to lifestyle changes but individuals might need to combine methods based on their individual risk factors.
Less than 1% of people with Alzheimer’s disease have an early-onset type associated with their genetic mutations and these people are unfortunately guaranteed to develop the disease.
A clinical trial by the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network is testing if antibodies to beta-amyloid can reduce the beta-amyloid plaque in the brains of people with these genetic mutations. If these antibodies work, they might be able to prevent Alzheimer's symptoms.
The A4 trial, conducted by the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, (Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s), is also attempting to find out if antibodies to beta-amyloid can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people between the ages of 65 and 85 and are at a higher risk for the disease.
Prevention Methods (Research- Backed)
This is perhaps the most convincing evidence and it shows that just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia and slow the progression down in people who already have symptoms. Exercise can benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
As exercise also provides cardiovascular benefits, it’s also recommended by experts as a way of improving quality of life and overall wellness.
A Healthy Diet
Heart-healthy eating is a great way of feeding and protecting the brain. This type of eating change involves including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet, as well as limiting your intake of sugar and saturated fats.
Two diets that have been proven to provide multiple health benefits and even lower the risk of Alzheimer's Disease are the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. These diets have been studied and results show that even partial adherence to one of them can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s down.
- The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet puts a strong emphasis on vegetables, fruits, fat-free dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils. It also limits the amount of sodium, sweet treats, sugary drinks, and red meats one consumes.
- A Mediterranean diet includes limited amounts of red meat and focuses on hearty foods such as whole grains, fruit and veg, fish, nuts, and plenty of olive oil.
Getting Enough Sleep
Improved sleep can help with a variety of health conditions and getting enough rest can also help prevent Alzheimer’s. There is growing evidence surrounding this method and it is linked to greater amyloid clearance inside the brain. Adults should be getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night to not only help with the prevention of the disease but also maintain cognitive abilities.
Keeping strong social connections with friends and family and ensuring you keep mentally active whilst aging, is believed to lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's Disease.
This method is not backed entirely by experts and they are still trying to figure out the reason behind how this might work. Some believe it is down to the direct mechanisms between social and mental stimulation, which can strengthen connections between different nerve cells located inside the brain.
This type of training involves activities that are designed to enhance memory, speed of processing, and reasoning. Evidence suggests that computer-based cognitive training might be able to delay or slow down cognitive decline, yet more research needs to be done into whether this to see if it might be able to slow down Alzheimer’s disease too.
It has been shown that stimulating activities, however, such as reading or playing games, might lower the risk of cognitive impairment which is related to Alzheimer’s. Completing these activities lowers the risk of MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment).
Controlling High Blood Pressure
Controlling high blood pressure is a method of reducing the risk of serious heart problems such as heart disease and stroke. However, it can also be used as a potential method of preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies show there is a connection between high blood pressure, cerebrovascular disease, and dementia. It’s very common for those with Alzheimer’s to have signs of vascular damage in the brain.
Clinical trials are now underway to see if managing high blood pressure in patients with hypertension can prevent Alzheimer’s and overall cognitive decline. Studies have shown that intensive lowering of blood pressure can significantly reduce the risk of MCI, which is a common precursor of Alzheimer’s disease.
Further studies are now taking place to determine which age people should be to benefit from blood pressure management. Studies are also being done on how this might affect the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer's Disease Prevention Research
Researchers are constantly exploring methods and interventions which might eventually prevent or delay Alzheimer's and cognitive decline that comes with age. Other research methods include:
- Diabetes treatment
- Drug Testing
- Depression treatment
- Lipid-lowering treatment
- Sleep studies and interventions
- Vitamin B12 supplements
- Folic acid supplements
- Mental exercises
How is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?
If after using prevention methods, Alzheimer’s Disease is something you or your loved one develops, you might be interested in how it is treated. Although we are going to look at drugs as treatment, it’s also important to create a safe and supportive environment and work on strengthening routine habits to help Alzheimer’s patients live a much easier life.
Making them feel comfortable and confident, whilst prolonging their independence is not only beneficial for the patient, but also for the caregiver.
Mild To Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease
Providing Alzheimer’s patients with comfort, dignity, and independence is key. This way, they can live for longer whilst also encouraging and assisting their caregivers.
Galantamine, donepezil, rivastigmine, and cholinesterase inhibitors are the drugs usually used to treat patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and these can control cognitive and behavioral symptoms.
As the disease progresses, however, the brain produces less acetylcholine and so these medicines might lose their full effectiveness.
Medications that target the underlying causes of any disease are known as disease-modifying drugs. Aducanumab is the disease-modifying drug currently used to treat Alzheimer’s.
Aducanumab is an antibody, or immunotherapy, and works to target the protein beta-amyloid. This helps reduce amyloid plaques. Clinical studies to determine the effectiveness of aducanumab were conducted in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairmenst.
Moderate to Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
Memantine, which is an NMDA antagonist is currently the medication used to treat moderate to severe cases of the disease. The drug reduces symptoms and helps to enable people to maintain the ability to carry out simple tasks.
Memantine is used to help people in later stages of the disease and used to give them as much independence as possible in their final months.
The drug works to regulate glutamate in the brain as too much of this, can lead to brain cell death. NMDA antagonists work in a different way to cholinesterase inhibitors, which means the two drugs can be prescribed at the same time.
Donepezil, the rivastigmine patch and memantine and donepezil together, has also been approved by the FDA to treat moderate to severe cases of Alzheimer’s.
Though there are no proven dietary supplements to help prevent Alzheimer’s if you are looking for something to add to your daily routine to improve memory and keep you at your sharpest and most focused self, we recommend:
Mind Lab Pro® Universal Nootropic™
The Mind Lab Pro Universal Nootropic will help you feel on top of your game and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s help improve mental alertness and mental clarity. It might also improve your speed of thought and give you the confidence to keep working on those thinking skills.
The best way of preventing or delaying Alzheimer's disease is usually a combination of measures from lifestyle changes to blood pressure management strategies.
Whilst research is still being carried out however, it’s a good idea to keep your brain as healthy as possible to prevent cognitive decline and the onset of memory loss, and keep your body moving for overall wellness.
Prevention methods for Alzheimer’s Disease are constantly being studied by scientists and in the future, scientists hope to provide even more tested and proven ways of delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s or preventing it entirely.