When it comes to aging, while concerns about sagging skin, baggy eyes and low energy might preoccupy your thoughts, they can seem superficial when it comes to fears of developing Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline, losing your memory and developing dementia.
As author James Stephens once wrote, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” Scared about the potential for developing a life-altering disease as you age? Fight your fear by asking questions, getting answers and taking the preventative actions now that can make a big difference later.
So, What Are the Numbers?
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America reports that about 5.1 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s. As the Boomer population continues to age, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 people over 65 will develop Alzheimer’s with the risk growing two-fold about every five years after that. Women develop Alzheimer’s more than men, in part because they typically live longer.
However, a 2014 study out of Stanford University also revealed that women with a known gene marker for Alzheimer’s (APOE-E4) were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than men with the same gene. More than 1 in 7 people, about 15% of the population, carry the APOE-E4 gene, which doesn’t guarantee that Alzheimer’s will develop, but according to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, about half of all people with Alzheimer’s have the gene.
What Happens to a Brain with Alzheimer’s?
The progressive degeneration of the brain in someone with Alzheimer’s is a direct result of a loss of brain cells. The disease kills brain cells and damages the communication channels between surviving cells so they are unable to connect and send messages. This eventually causes the brain to shrink.
According to the Mayo Clinic, one thing doctors have found by studying the brains of people with Alzheimer’s is that plaques, or clumps of the beta-amyloid protein, are all over the brain and may result in the cell damage previously mentioned.
Researchers have also found that the protein, tau, which supports the brain’s ability to transport essential nutrients and materials, is all tangled up in the brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s. This protein tangling may also result in the loss and damage of brain cells.
What Are the Signs of Alzheimer’s?
Perhaps you are worried about a loved one who may be developing Alzheimer’s or simply want to know the signs for yourself. Pay attention and don’t disregard clues like memory loss where the person forgets recently learned information, or losing track of processes even in completing simple tasks like making a phone call.
Other signs include disorientation, or confusing times and places, or misplacing and losing things, perhaps putting items in strange places. Another sign is sundowner syndrome where the person experiences agitation and confusion at night due to altered sleep/wake cycle.
The person may exhibit changes in thinking and emotions. They include impaired reasoning with…