November is national Alzheimer’s disease month (2019)

November is national Alzheimer’s disease month (2019)

As we age, there are many noticeable changes in how we look, feel and function. People may also worry about changes in how their brain works; they may worry they may have dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to diseases and conditions that cause changes in memory, language, problem-solving, judgment and other thinking skills that can impact daily living. There are different types of dementia, but the most common type is Alzheimer’s Disease, which accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a progressive disease that over time results in the death of brain cells. A common early symptom of AD is not being able to remember recently learned information. There are several stages to AD, which starts with mild memory and thinking issues and develops to a point where a person is unable to take care of themselves. Although age is the greatest risk factor for AD, it is not a normal part of aging. It is very important to note that as we age, we do have normal changes in how our brain functions. We may be forgetful and make mistakes that are considered to be normal aging. If you would like to know more about normal aging compared to dementia symptoms, please go to https://alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs and see the 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of AD which also includes examples of normal aging. However, it is critical that a person sees their primary care provider if they or their family and friends notice changes in thinking or behavior. There are other diseases and conditions that can cause memory loss, and it is important to know if one does or does not have dementia or AD. If there is an early diagnosis of AD, there is more opportunity for medical management and to make plans with family members about who will make treatment decisions as the disease progresses. Although scientists are not completely sure about what causes AD, there are recommendations that may help to delay or prevent getting AD. One important suggestion is to follow a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet is also healthy for the brain, as is a daily exercise routine such as walking. It is also important to be socially active, manage stress and avoid alcohol and tobacco. There are also scientists who now refer to AD as Diabetes Type 3. One link to AD appears to be high blood glucose levels, so if you do not have diabetes, work hard to prevent getting it, and if you do have diabetes, work hard to keep your blood glucose levels within normal limits. There is also a link between head injury and an increased risk of AD. One recent study about Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and American Indians/Alaska Natives states that access to high quality education is a profound protective factor against AD. Improving our education systems from pre-school to K-12, to supporting our students to be successful college and vocational students and life-long learners, may help individuals create “cognitive reserve” which scientists think helps the brain maintain function when the protein deposits and tangles in the brain associated with AD could begin to interfere with normal thinking skills. The projected impact of AD in the next 50 years will be devastating to our families, communities and health care budgets. Hopefully we can all work together to keep individuals, families and Tribal and Urban Indian communities physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy.

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