There’s a lot that’s unpleasant about Alzheimer’s disease, especially the fact that it’s currently considered progressive and un-reversible. That means that residents of Dubuque and elsewhere with this form of dementia will gradually suffer more and more severe mental and physical problems until they need hospice care, followed by death.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice work with many clients and loved ones who are dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.
All of them are in different still stages of their journey. Sometimes they are in the middle of the stages, which means they may be able to live at home with help from caregivers. Others at more advanced stages may soon need to relocate to an assisted living facility or a skilled nursing facility that includes a focus on memory care.
We’re happy to work with these clients and their families since it can be difficult to watch a loved one decline. This goes beyond forgetting facts, which is seen as the most common sign of this form of dementia. It also can mean changing behavior, unpredictable moods, fear and aggression, and even security risks if they don’t remember where they are and happen to wander away or get into dangerous situations.
Not only is it challenging to watch the disease progress, but it’s also frustrating to know that science hasn’t found a cure or even a reason why the disease takes place. Although there are all sorts of research into how the brain changes when someone is already affected, there’s still a lot that isn’t known about how it initially takes hold.
Advances have been made in the last decade compared to past decades, but there’s still a long way to go before there’s any kind of medication or therapy available that can restore or replace damaged proteins or keep the disease away – if this even happens at all.
Reducing the risk
There are some bright spots, however.
Although an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is permanent and ultimately fatal, researchers have found that there are ways that can slow down its progression in some people.
Though everyone’s condition is different, several common stages of the disease have been identified. How fast people go through them depends on a lot of factors – for some, it may happen in months, but for others, there could be gaps of many years.
Generally, researchers have concluded that the best way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or slow its progression is a healthier lifestyle.
The Alzheimer’s Association shares that conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, also may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They learned this during autopsies and found that 80 percent of those with Alzheimer’s disease also had some sort of cardiovascular disease.
Right now, it’s a “which came first” question, whether cardiovascular problems may accelerate protein changes in the brain, early Alzheimer’s may cause changes in the rest of the body, or both conditions develop simultaneously.
A generally healthy lifestyle is also believed to delay the progression of some of the other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, along with being good for general health.
For instance, quitting smoking seems to have benefits throughout the whole body, including the lungs, heart, mouth, and skin.
Likewise, regular exercise is also recommended for general good health as well as slowing down Alzheimer’s disease. Getting out and moving increases oxygen flow to the whole body, including the brain. It also can help improve muscle tone, balance, and flexibility, which can also reduce the risk of falling. (Head injuries may also be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.)
A healthy diet also may play a role.
The Alzheimer’s Association suggests trying the DASH diet, which is short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It includes vegetables, fruits, low-fat or fat-free products, plus whole grains, nuts, white meat, and healthy oils.
At the same time, it discourages processed food, sugar, and saturated fats. Although this diet doesn’t forbid things like red meat, sodium, or sugar-based drinks, it does encourage setting limits on how often they are consumed.
The similar Mediterranean diet is also recommended, which includes more servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, plus olive oil and nuts.
How eating better directly contributes to Alzheimer’s risk hasn’t been fully identified, but generally, all of these better items can help the body and the brain.
On the mental health side, experts also suggest things like learning new skills, interacting with people on a social basis, and even doing puzzles. All of these can stimulate your brain and help build new neural connections, which can offset any losses of neurons and proteins due to the disease.
For whatever reason, cases of Alzheimer’s disease are on the rise worldwide. It might be because more people truly are acquiring the disease. Or it could be that more doctors are becoming more familiar with the symptoms, especially early onset, and are making more informed diagnoses.
At the same time, people are also learning more about it so they’re seeking help sooner.
To learn more, September has been designated as World Alzheimer’s Month, an opportunity to increase awareness, give info, and alert lawmakers that more research needs to be funded.