Every 67 seconds on average, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s Disease. That depressing statistic comes courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association, which has plenty of other alarming stats on hand. More than 5 million Americans are living with this dread neurological disease, and roughly 500,000 people die every year from Alzheimer’s. That makes it the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Yet while several hundred thousand new cases of dementia are diagnosed each year, not all cases are due to Alzheimer’s. Many other types of dementia are due to microvascular disease or toxins being deposited in the brain. Early diagnosis is critical in improving the efficacy of treatment of these neurodegenerative disorders. Despite the bold claims of some pharmaceutical companies with Alzheimer’s drugs on the market, once you have any kind of dementia, it’s really not treatable. There’s a vast amount of work being done in Alzheimer’s and dementia research, and the search is on to find better, more reliable predictors for the onset of Alzheimer’s. In July, for example, researchers in the UK announced they had identified 10 proteins in the blood they say can predict with great accuracy the onset of Alzheimer’s. That’s a major breakthrough, as there are thousands of proteins in the blood, and those researchers spent many years of research identifying the relevant proteins related to Alzheimer’s.
Unfortunately, this type of testing may be several years away from the market. But there are tests available today that can help determine your cognitive function and your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s. Sarasota Wellness and Internal Medicine currently offers the latest in comprehensive computer-based memory testing, using CNS Vitals software. These standardized neurological tests can help identify a problem, what part of the brain is involved, and determine whether an MRI, CAT scan, or other tests are needed, or if treatment would be indicated. If cognitive impairment is suggested, there are some new agents, that may be very effective in preventing or slowing the progression of dementia.
As a doctor, however, my philosophy is simple: Do everything you can now to embrace a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s in the future. Avoidance of tobacco and alcohol as well as many prescription sedatives and sleep aids is important. Regular cardiovascular exercise, and a healthy, low-fat diet have been linked to a lower risk of contracting Alzheimer’s. In particular, several foods to add to your diet include five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna. Getting adequate sleep, usually 7-9 hours per night, is also important. Studies have also shown that staying mentally and socially active is important in maintaining good brain health. None of this is any guarantee you will avoid dementia in the future, of course. But making smarter lifestyle choices today could make a huge difference in your quality of life years from now. Remember, it is not only important to add years to your life, but also to add life to your years!