Risk for dementia and prevention

Before I get into risk and prevention, it seems I have lost November.  Does anyone know where I might have put it?  I know that I have an uncanny knack for misplacing things but this is ridiculous.  I am having a hard time accepting that it is already December because November is a big blur of trying to be happy, trying to be healthy, trying to pack and unpack for too many children and trying to create the perfect pumpkin martini to accompany the turkey.  (I am proud to say that while I may have failed in all my other attempts, I succeeded with my shaker, although I can’t remember the recipe … figures.)

1.  Are you at risk for developing dementia?  Because there are so many causes of dementia, including but not limited to head injury, alcohol and drug use and cardiac disease (vascular dementia), it is difficult to pinpoint who should be tattooing the PIN for their bank accounts on their butt.  However, research has shown that the following are at a higher risk …
– females, which obviously means that we have lived a harder and more stressful life
– people with a close family member with dementia
– people who have a low mental engagement (in other words, do some more sudoku puzzles)
– those who have spent fewer years in formal education

2.  Specifically, are you at risk for Alzheimer’s disease?  Age is the most reliable and obvious risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s.  The risk doubles every 5 years after the age of 65.  Some years ago, they found a gene (APOE-e4) which increases your risk of developing late-onset (after the age of 60) Alzheimer’s and another one (APOE-e2) which decreases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.  This year, a variation of a gene was found (MTHFD1L) that seems to double an individual’s risk of developing the disease.   You’d think they would give them names that are easier to remember.  The bottom line is that there seems to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors to blame.  So, what can we do to prevent it?

3.  Stay active!  It is critical to stay active mentally as well as physically.  How many times have you heard that the person living into their 90s is still working?  They may still be living because they are still working.  Engage your mind.  Pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

4.  Have a healthy diet – There is a lot of hype about diet and memory.  Studies show that a healthy diet including lots of fruit, vegetables, fish and nuts will be protective against dementia.  Someone, please remind me to spend more time in the produce section at Stop n’ Shop.  A healthy diet will also help your cardiovascular health.  It has been shown that maintaining a normal blood pressure and cholesterol level reduces the risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.  For Alzheimer’s disease, the best evidence says that lowering your homocysteine levels by increasing your folate, B-6 and B-12 will slow the progression of the disease.

5.  Have a shot – no, sorry, not of tequila.  I was surprised to read that people who are current on their vaccinations, including flu, tetanus, diphtheria and polio, have a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia.  I am a little skeptical about this one and am wondering if the pharmaceutical companies who produce the vaccines are sponsoring these studies.  But … it does seem that the healthier you are generally, the better chance that you will remember where you put your teeth when you get older.  (Maybe you want to re-read “get healthy week”.)  It makes sense because, as you know, your brain is just another organ.

The most important take home messages today are that while some memory loss is normal, dementia is NOT a normal part of the aging process and all dementia is NOT Alzheimer’s.  If you are concerned about yourself or a family member, get it checked out.  Therapies exist that can help to slow the progression and I can only imagine that the treatments will continue to improve.  I wish the M.A.S.C. (pronounced “mask” organization had similar funding.  (Mothers Against Spoiled Children

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