The Disease Americans Fear Most

13 Nov

Hi all, it’s been far too long since my last post, but, as usual, life gets in the way. But I’m back and trying to start up again, especially with the holiday season officially in full swing.  I’m going to help you through the season of weight gain, I mean cheer.  But today, I want to focus on preserving those holiday memories with friends and family.

A recent survey shows that Alzheimer’s is the disease most feared by Americans.  At first glace, those results surprised me, most feared even when compared to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes?  But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Alzheimer’s is the one disease that destroys who we are and leaves us with an empty shell where our memories and personalities used to reside.  You can beat cancer, you can take steps to prevent heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but Alzheimer’s seemingly strikes at random and there is little you can do to prevent it.  I lost my grandmother to the disease, and as a result, I never really got to know who she was pre-Alzheimer’s, and in the end she didn’t even remember my dad.  Even as a little girl, it was heartbreaking to watch my dad try enjoy his time with his mom, all the while knowing she had no idea that this man talking to her was her son.  And upon further reflection, I realize that I’m with the majority; the thing I fear most is that myself or a loved one will develop this horrible disease and become a shell of their former selves.

Alzheimer’s disease strips its victims of their identity

So what exactly is Alzheimer’s disease? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” Sadly, Alzheimer’s has no cure, and the treatments do not reverse or stop the progression of the disease. Drugs do temporarily slow down the worsening of the dementia and provides, at least for a time, a better quality of life for patients and their caregivers.

Alzheimer’s leaves no survivors.  As the brain cells are destroyed, the disease causes memory changes, erratic behaviors and loss of body functions. In an excruciatingly slow manner, it destroys a person’s identity and personality and their ability to connect with others. Patients eventually revert into being as helpless as a baby, relying on others to feed, bathe, and clothe them, eventually even losing control over their bodily functions.

But not all hope is lost, there are things you can do that may help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association lists 5 things that you can do today to reduce your risk of developing the disease:

Head-Heart Connection

We already know that our bodies are intricately connected and what happens in one part is bound to affect another.  The risk for Alzheimer’s appears to increase as a result of many of the same conditions that also damage the heart or blood vessels.  This includes the standard culprits: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol.  Some autopsy reports demonstrate that as many as 80% of people with Alzheimer’s also had heart disease.  But of course, this still leaves the question of did heart disease cause Alzheimer’s or did the same lifestyle choices that gave someone heart disease also give them Alzheimer’s? That question remains unanswered, but in the meantime, there are things you can do.

Continue to do heart-disease prevention activities such as weight control, proper nutrition, and daily exercise, you may be able to simultaneously reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This leads me to my next point–

Physical Exercise and Diet

Exercise is critical to more than just brain health

As I pointed out earlier, there is a strong connection between your heart and your brain.  Your brain uses about 20% of the total oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries, so it is important to take care of your ticker.  Whatever you do to your heart, will directly affect your brain.  Make sure you get the recommended amount of heart healthy exercise per week (again, 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week).  A sensible and healthy diet is a no-brainer.  Pick heart-healthy fats to include in your diet and they will also help your brain.

Social Connections

Some studies suggest that maintaining strong social bonds throughout our lives reduces our risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s as we age.  Make sure you are spending quality time with friends and family.  Pick up a new hobby or take an old hobby and find a way to make it social.  Enjoy reading?  Find a local book club, which kills two birds with one stone; it allows for interaction with people on a social level, and it provides an intellectual activity (see below).

Crosswords increase your mental agility

Intellectual Activity

Think of this part as weight training for the brain.  Doing things that challenge your brain make it stronger.  Try to “brain lift” a few times a week.  There are limitless options.  A few examples are brain teasers, riddles, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and math problems. I could go on and on, but the point is to engage the brain in a way that challenges it.  While there may be no concrete evidence to suggest that doing brain teasers helps prevent Alzheimer’s, in my opinion, it doesn’t hurt and it’s really fun!

Preventing Head Trauma

Protecting your noggin is key beyond just the developmental years.  There appears to be a significant link between serious head trauma and future risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  It goes without saying to ALWAYS WEAR A SEAT BELT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not only could it save your life, but it could spare you a debilitating disease 20 or 30 years down the road. Wear a helmet when participating in sports (yes this includes when on a bike).  Taking steps to prevent head trauma prevents more than just a massive headache, it could prevent against Alzheimer’s.

So until we develop a cure (and even after), there are key things that you can do to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.  Most of them you should already be doing (*cough, cough* wear a seat belt!*cough, cough*) and some that maybe you had known about, but were too lazy to try.  So the next time you see that crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper, don’t just throw it out, give it a try, it may help save your memories and your life one day.

Keep on sweating!

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