Dr. Gregory Anderson with KentuckyOne Health Neurology Associates, recently wrote this column for the Herald-Leader. In it, he addresses specifics about Alzheimer’s, the neurodegenerative disorder.
“As baby boomers age, diseases commonly associated with old age, like forms of dementia, will increasingly burden the health care system. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $226 billion in 2015. By 2050, those costs will rise as high as $1.1 trillion.
“Dementia is a broader category of cognition and behavior impairment, which may lead to a decline in function, impairment of memory, changes in personality and loss of reasoning and language capabilities. Alzheimer’s, which affects an estimated 5.3 million Americans, is a specific form of dementia. It’s also the most common form, making up roughly 90 percent of dementia cases.
“Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that presents with a number of symptoms that often begin with short-term memory loss. Initially, patients may remember events of the past, but have short-term memory impairment, like the inability to recall of events of yesterday or last week. As the disease progresses, long-term memories may also be compromised.
“Patients may also experience loss of executive function, such as with planning or problem solving, language or behavioral changes. As the disease progresses, patients may suffer hallucinations, delusions and a loss of social appropriateness. As many as 50 percent of patients, early on, may not be aware of the presence or degree of their impairment, which is more evident to others.
“People often wonder about the genetics of Alzheimer’s. Genetics do contribute, but only a small percentage of people have a distinct genetic inheritance. Though multiple genes may play a role, 95 percent of the cases are not tied to a specific gene.
“Carrying certain genes such as APOE-4 may confer an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, though it is not necessarily a definite predictor that someone will be affected. However, if one immediate family member has Alzheimer’s, your risk may increase two to four times, and with more than one family member, that number increases further, especially if that relative developed Alzheimer’s at an earlier age, under 70. The risk of the disease increases with age – an estimated 30-50 percent of people have some evidence of dementia over age 85.
“Though we don’t know the causes of Alzheimer’s or what triggers the process, there are some things you can do to lessen your risk and improve cognitive function. It’s important to maintain a high level of social interaction, and engage in activities that promote mental stimulation and require cognition and planning, like crosswords, writing or reading. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and getting regular physical activity are also both key. If you have a vitamin B12 or vitamin D deficiency, replacement of these can be beneficial. Modest doses of vitamin E replacement may also decrease your risk, although this benefit is less well defined.”