The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Special Sections

July 11, 2012

Keep your brain healthy to avoid Alzheimer’s disease

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 — All of us forget things. Our brains are overworked trying to keep up with the hectic pace of modern life and things fall through the cracks. But as we get older, a “senior moment” can turn into an “uh-oh” moment when we stop and think  “Am I getting Alzheimer’s?”   

Dementia is a disease of the brain. It causes memory loss, changes in personality, and difficulty in handling even the simplest things.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in older people. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One-third of Americans over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s disease.

There is no test for Alzheimer’s. The diagnosis is based on a thorough history and physical examination, laboratory tests, psychological testing, and a MRI or CT of the brain.

The biggest clue is a history of worsening memory loss over time, usually reported by the family and not the person involved.  

The first stages can be very subtle, showing up as an inability to write checks or handle personal affairs. You forget the names of people you have known all your life. Your family may notice a change in your personality. You get lost going to the grocery store or post office.

As the disease progresses, the changes become more evident, and other people may notice you have a problem. You are no longer able to care for yourself. You need help with basic skills such as cooking, bathing, or dressing. At some point you may need around the clock in-home care, or you may need to go to a nursing facility.  

The severe form of the disease leaves you unable to communicate or do anything for yourself. You are totally dependent on others. Malnutrition becomes a problem as you forget to eat. It is much easier for you to catch infections such as pneumonia.

The average life span after the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is seven to eight years.

So what can you do to keep your brain healthy? Eat a balanced diet, don’t use tobacco, and get enough sleep. Exercise both your body and your mind. Do crossword puzzles, read the newspaper. Get out of the house and socialize with your friends. Play bridge, chess, or other games that make you think. Give your brain a 30-minute workout every day.   

No medicines have been proven to prevent Alzheimer’s. There is evidence that omega fatty acids, such as in fish oil, may help. Good blood pressure control is also beneficial.

Most importantly, find yourself a good family doctor now, while you are healthy, so that he or she can pick up any changes in your health or behavior early in the process.

The relationship you have with a family doctor that has known you for many years, and hopefully knew your parents as well, is the most powerful tool you have to stay healthy.

Odds are you will care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Remember, knowledge is power.

Learn everything you can about dementia. The 36 Hour Day by Mace and Rabins is a great place to start. Join a support group.

Deal with the difficult issues, such as driving, living wills, and powers of attorney early on while your loved one can still make decisions. And above all else, take care of yourself.

Your family physician is a great resource and can help you and your family deal with Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic illnesses.

If you have concerns about yourself or a family member, please discuss them with your family physician at your next appointment.

 

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