Alzheimer’s Disease Causes, Risks, Treatment & Prevention

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s).

There are 3 hypotheses as to the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease:

1. The cholinergic hypothesis

Proposes that AD is caused by the decreased synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This has not gained much support because medications intended to treat acetylcholine deficiency have not been very effective.

2. 1991 – Amyloid Hypothesis

This postulates that amyloid beta (Ab) deposits are the fundamental cause of the disease. The gene for the Ab precursor protein (APP) is on chromosome 21. Together with the fact that people with Down Syndrome (trisomy 21) universally exhibit AD by age 40. Also APoE4, the major genetic risk factor for AD, leads to excess amyloid build-up in the brain before AD symptoms arise. The problem is that an experimental vaccine was tried that cleared amyloid plaques and it had no effect on dementia.

3. 2004 Tau Hypothesis

Tau proteins initiate the disease cascade. Tau proteins are microtubule-associated proteins that are abundant in neurons in the central nervous system and are less common elsewhere. Eventually, they form neurofibrillary tangles inside nerve cell bodies and the microtubules disintegrate, collapsing the neuron’s transport system. This may result first in malfunctions in biochemical communication between neurons and later in the death of the cells.

Patients will often ask us if there is a genetic test for AD. Scientists have so far identified one Alzheimer risk gene called apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4).APOE. This is considered a deterministic gene. So if you test positive for it, it means that you are at higher risk for developing AD but no guarantee that anyone who inherits it will develop the disorder. Because of that, it is not widely used and it also not considered a diagnostic or genetic test with high predictability.

So what can you do to reduce your risk? Prevention is always the best course since it cannot be treated once in the later stages. There have been lifestyles shown to reduce the risk of developing AD. According to the National Institute of Health, The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND diet, is a hybrid of two different diets combined, that is gaining attention for its potential positive effects on preventing cognitive decline in older individuals. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, developed to lower high blood pressure, is another popular diet being researched for its effects on the early stages of AD.

Some Foods to Eat on the Mediterranean Diet

Here is a breakdown of specific foods included in the diet:

Antioxidants and the Brain

In recent research studies, antioxidants have been found to reverse some of the symptoms of aging, such as cognitive impairment. Here are fruits and vegetables with high antioxidant levels.

Other Alzheimer’s Prevention Tools

Studies have shown that several lifestyle changes may also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. These include:

Peggy Demetriou, FNP, APRN-BC Founder and CEO of Qvita Health and Wellness.

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