June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, a month sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association geared toward raising awareness about the disease. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with 5.8 million Americans currently living with the disease. By 2050 this number is projected to be close to 14 million. Alzheimer’s disease is the only leading cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. That is precisely why this month’s awareness campaign is so important — it is essential that awareness of this disease increases and that the research so essential in this field continues to progress.
While our brains do change as we age, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. Typical age-related changes include making a bad decision once in a while, missing a monthly payment, forgetting what day it is and remembering it later, or losing things from time to time. Changes potentially due to Alzheimer’s or other dementias include poor judgement and decision-making, the inability to manage a budget, losing track of the date or season, and misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them. It is important to know the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, as early detection can allow individuals to explore treatments that help maintain independence longer, to plan for the future by getting one’s affairs in order, as well as increase the potential of participating in clinical drug trials that help to advance the research in this area.
Alzheimer’s disease is complex – there is no single cause. While some risk factors can’t be changed, such as age, family history and one’s genetic makeup, there is evidence to suggest that some risk factors are within our control. In 2017, the World Health Organization released guidelines outlining the latest evidence on how we can reduce our risk of cognitive decline and dementia. The guidelines provide recommendations for behaviors we should all adapt or avoid in order to lower our risk of cognitive decline. These recommendations for adults include:
- engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week
- living a smoke-free life
- eating a healthy, Mediterranean-like diet filled with fruit and vegetables
- consuming alcohol in moderation and avoid drinking in excess
- maintaining a healthy weight
- managing one’s blood pressure
- managing one’s blood sugar levels
- managing one’s cholesterol levels
- engaging in brain training activities, although the efficacy of these activities is inconclusive
- participating in social activities
Being physically active, not smoking, eating a healthy, balanced diet, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, and managing one’s weight and chronic conditions are all ways we can not only reduce our risk of developing dementia, but also improve our general health. These behaviors can not only help us improve our health and wellbeing in the short term, but in the long term as well. A recent JAMA study found that older adults who maintained a healthy lifestyle had a lower risk of dementia, regardless of their genetic risk. By investing in good behaviors throughout our lives, we can enhance and protect as many of our remaining years as possible. While we may not be able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease today, we can take important steps to reducing our risks of developing dementia tomorrow. At Vitality, we focus on these healthy behaviors as building blocks toward as healthy a life as possible, both now and long into the future.
The Alzheimer’s Association is asking people around the world to wear purple and to invest in brain health during the month of June to raise awareness and funds for care and support while advancing research toward the first survivor of Alzheimer’s. Given the immense stakes, this is an initiative I am sure we can all get behind.
Lianne Jacobs, Product Analyst, has a master’s degree in Public Health from Yale University. She is the only indoor cycling instructor who can’t ride a bike. She enjoys traveling the world, laughing at her own jokes, and tricking her husband into eating baked goods made with hidden vegetables.
 I. Lourida, E. Hannon, T. J. Littlejohns, K. M. Langa, E. Hypponen, E. Kuzma and D. J. Llewellyn, “Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia,” JAMA, 2019.