Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, though the risk for developing it increases with age.
With Alzheimer’s, a loved one may find it difficult to perform familiar tasks, such as preparing dinner or using a household appliance. In the course of conversation, he or she may become hard to understand by substituting unusual words or phrases for ones they have forgotten. They may become disoriented about time and place, wear inappropriate clothing, or continually misplace things. They may also exhibit a change in personality, rapid mood swings, or a loss of interest in usual activities.
Although Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, the risk for developing it increases with age. About five percent of people between 65 and 74 have the disease, with the numbers soaring to about half the population by 85 years or older. Although there is no cure, early diagnosis and treatment is available.
While the causes of Alzheimer’s are not yet fully understood, we do know it damages and kills brain cells. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death among American adults and the fifth leading cause for people 65 and older.
The numbers are even scarier among people of color. As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s is much more prevalent among African Americans, whose population with the disease is expected to double by 2030.
Why are African Americans so vulnerable? One reason may be the higher rate of vascular diseases (those affecting blood vessels, including heart attack and stroke), which are suspected risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Studies have found that people with a history of either high blood pressure or high cholesterol are twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s.
As we focus on this devastating neurological disease during November — Alzheimer’s Awareness Month – it’s important to realize that more than the lives of families of persons with Alzheimer’s are affected. For every person with Alzheimer’s, there is typically at least one other family member or friend directly involved in their care, not to mention a host of healthcare and social workers. Again, sadly there is no cure for the disease, and coping with Alzheimer’s is usually a difficult and demanding experience for patients and caregivers alike. However, with early diagnosis, a few medications may delay its progression in some affected persons..
Reducing the Risk Factors
Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is an opportunity for us to arm ourselves with useful information about the disease. Indeed, our brain, heart and body are all connected, and being knowledgeable about the risk factors for heart disease may improve our overall health and thereby reduce the chances of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Those risk factors include lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes, a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables, and lack of social engagement.
Specifically, here are some steps you can take to maintain a healthy brain:
- Since African Americans have a higher rate of vascular disease, it’s particularly important for us to stay active – which means daily exercise or repetitive physical activities.
- Carefully watch and control your blood pressure through a regular fitness routine, eating healthy foods, not smoking and working to maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage your cholesterol levels by staying active and sticking to a diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber.
- Reduce your risk for diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active.
- Stay socially and mentally active to ensure your brain and your body are performing at their very best.
For many of us, taking these critical steps on the road to maintaining a healthy brain is undeniably a challenge. But the good news is that by working together, we can help to reduce the risk and reverse the growing trend of Alzheimer’s disease among African Americans.
Remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!