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Keep your memory sharp with these tips
Looking for more ways to boost your memory? Here are some other activities to build into your routine, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Get active: Exercise increases blood flow to your brain. The Department of Health and Human Services says healthy adults should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (like brisk walking) every week.
- Exercise your brain, too: Think of your brain like a muscle — you have to use it to stay in shape! Try crossword puzzles, card games, or other mentally stimulating activities.
- Be organized: It’s harder to remember things when you’re living in a messy environment. Keep lists, a planner, or the calendar in your phone to keep track of appointments and important to-dos. And think like Marie Kondo: Every item in your home should have its own place!
- Get enough sleep: Sleep is vital for memory health, so don’t skimp — healthy adults should get seven to nine hours nightly, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
- Eat healthy foods: A nutritious diet will also benefit your brain and memory health. Focus on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat proteins like fish and beans.
- Get chronic conditions under control: Living with a chronic illness like diabetes or depression? Managing those and your overall health will also help you protect your brain and memory health.
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Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have risen significantly in the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This form of dementia strikes more than 5 million Americans, and researchers are desperately searching for ways to slow it down. One answer might be encouraging your body to make a hormone that limits the damage the disease can cause. Check out 15 other things that help slow Alzheimer’s.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain focused on a recently discovered exercise-related hormone called irisin. They had looked for irisin in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients and found their levels were extremely low compared to levels in healthy brains.
Using mice, the researchers tracked irisin levels over a five-week period. When the researchers had the mice swim daily, their brain levels of irisin increased. What’s more, the hormone seemed to protect the mice’s neurons. Even when the researchers injected the mice with proteins that encouraged the development of Alzheimer’s, irisin blocked the disease.
Next, the researchers gave the mice drugs that interfered with irisin production; tests soon revealed the mice were developing the kind of nerve damage that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. “This raises the possibility that irisin may help explain why physical activity improves memory and seems to play a protective role in brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” study co-author Ottavio Arancio, MD, PhD, told Science Daily. Find out what neurologists do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
How does irisin protect the mind? While no one’s sure, the study suggests that the hormone promotes neuronal growth in the brain’s hippocampus—a region of the brain critical for memory and learning. Dr. Arancio says the most reliable way to make sure your brain is getting irisin is through regular exercise—follow the U.S. guidelines of getting at least 30 minutes of activity a day, most days of the week. Besides exercise, make sure you incorporate these 50 everyday habits that reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia into your routine, too.
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Alzheimer’s disease (AD), also referred to simply as Alzheimer’s, is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and worsens over time. It is the cause of 60–70% of cases of dementia. The most common early symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events (short-term memory loss). As the disease advances, symptoms can include problems with language, disorientation (including easily getting lost), mood swings, loss of motivation, not managing self care, and behavioural issues. As a person’s condition declines, they often withdraw from family and society. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death. Although the speed of progression can vary, the typical life expectancy following diagnosis is three to nine years.
Very common (More than 3 million cases per year in US)
Diagnosis often requires lab test or imaging
No known cure, treatments available
Can last several years or be lifelongAlzheimer’s is associated with genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain cells over time. At the initial stage of the disease, forgetfulness and mild confusion is seen. Over time, recent memories also start erasing. Advanced stage symptoms vary from person to person. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Medication can temporarily reduce some symptoms or slow down the progression of the condition in some people.
READ MY OWN PERSONAL STORY WITH ALZHEIMER”S
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Despite the massive impact dementia has on the economy and people’s livelihoods, there are still many misconceptions about it. There are also some facts that still surprise people.
1. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not the same thing
Dementia is a term used for symptoms like confusion, memory loss, mood changes and personality changes. There are a whole range of conditions that can cause dementia, not just Alzheimer’s. The most common are Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, vascular dementia and Frontotemporal dementia.
“Sometimes people will say to me, ‘Oh well, she has Alzheimer’s disease, but she doesn’t have dementia…’ But really, if you have Alzheimer’s disease and you’re showing symptoms, then you have dementia,” said Laura Phipps, the head of communications and engagement at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “Dementia is just a word for the symptoms.”
2. People react differently to the words
Although dementia and Alzheimer’s are often confused, people tend to have different reactions to hearing each word.
“When you ask them to think about Alzheimer’s disease, they will put that in with other physical health conditions, like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes,” Phipps said. “And when you ask them to think about dementia, they don’t know what to do with it, and they tend to put it in with things like age and mental health.”
So even though dementia is caused by illnesses like Alzheimer’s, the word itself is conflated with being more of a mental disorder than something caused by a physical disease.
3. Dementia isn’t an inevitable part of getting older
A common misconception is that you get a bit forgetful as you get older, so dementia falls into that as an inevitability that just happens to most people.
“They’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, my grandma had dementia but she was very old,’ so it’s almost followed by an excuse that it was OK because they were old,” Phipps said. “And so I think that drives this kind of view in society that the diseases that cause dementia are not that important because there’s not much you can do about them.”
But this isn’t true. Dementia is caused by diseases. People understand cancer is a disease, that you shouldn’t have it and it’s unfair, Phipps said, but that’s not yet universally accepted by people when it comes to dementia.
4. At 90, more people don’t have dementia than do
By the time people get to 90 years old, they are more likely not to have any diseases that cause dementia than to have one.
Phipps said dementia research is behind a lot of other research because there is an extra mountain to climb. Because people think dementia is inevitable, they are less likely to want to support and fund research.
5. Almost half of adults don’t realize it causes death
A survey by Alzheimer’s Research UK found that 51% of adults recognize that dementia leads to death. That means almost half don’t realize, even though it’s the UK’s leading cause of death.
“These are physical diseases that ultimately are terminal — they will shorten your life,” Phipps said. “But people don’t recognize that, and again this just shows there is a lack of seriousness about it.
“You hear people joke about it, like, ‘Oh have you got Alzheimer’s?’ And actually, you wouldn’t joke about someone having another fatal illness. It’s not appropriate in society to do that. But people will still do that about dementia because they don’t recognize that diseases that cause dementia like Alzheimer’s are terminal. They will end your life too soon.”
6. There are more symptoms than memory loss
There is a slightly simplified view of dementia that it’s all about becoming forgetful when you get older. Memory loss is the most common symptom, Phipps said, but there are many more.
“As dementia progresses, people get more and more symptoms, including physical symptoms,” she said. “So they won’t be able to move around, they’ll have difficulty speaking, they’ll have trouble swallowing — and it’s ultimately those symptoms that make people immobile and much more frail and susceptible to things like falls or infections that they don’t recover from.”
7. A third of risk factors are within our control
People often understand the risk of dementia, Phipps said. About a third of cases of dementia could actually be down to risk factors that are in our control.
Age is the biggest risk factor because dementia mostly affects older people. Some people have a genetic predisposition to developing diseases like Alzheimer’s, which is out of their control.
“But there are also lifestyle factors that can influence your risk of dementia,” Phipps said. “And at a population level, these come out as things like smoking, like depression, physical inactivity, high blood pressure … so often it’s things that are likely to impact your heart.”
Only about a quarter of UK adults realize there is anything they can do to reduce their risk of dementia, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK surveys.
“If you were to address things like having more aggressive treatment of blood pressure, or stopping people becoming overweight, and if nobody smoked, then we would see a reduction in the number of people getting dementia,” said Phipps. “So there are things people can do that are within their control that can reduce their risk of dementia.”
8. Heart health and brain health are intrinsically linked
Many of the risk factors associated with dementia are the same as those associated with heart health. This is because your brain and heart are intrinsically linked.
“The majority of the blood that is pumped by your heart is used by your brain,” said Phipps. “So anything that damages how your heart is working will have a knock-on effect on your brain health. And so a lot of the risk factors for dementia at the moment with the best evidence are also heart health risk factors.”
So even though people may be unsure about the risk factors of dementia, if you tell them it’s the same as the ones for cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attacks, they might have a better idea.
9. Midlife is the most important window for risk reduction
Many of the most important avoidable risk factors for dementia appear in midlife, between the ages of about 40 and 64, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
People who have had periods of depression in mid or later life also have increased rates of dementia
10. It doesn’t just affect old people
Dementia doesn’t just affect older people. About 2-8% of all cases worldwide affect younger people. In the UK, there are about 40,000 people under the age of 65 living with dementia, but people tend to think it’s not something that strikes until later life.
“In 2015 we did some polling, and 46% of people think dementia mostly affects older people, 15% think it affects only older people, and 9% think it can also affect younger people,” Phipps said.
11. Sometimes, it only affects sight and perception
Sometimes memory loss isn’t a symptom of dementia until it is very advanced. The type of dementia author Terry Pratchett had, for example, affected how his brain interpreted vision from his eyes.
“So actually he didn’t have memory loss until the late stages, but he couldn’t really see at all,” Phipps said. “So he couldn’t type, and had big gaps in his vision where he couldn’t see things.”
Alzheimer’s Research UK has a virtual-reality dementia experience online called A Walk Through Dementia, which shows some of the visual perception tricks dementia can have.
“One thing people often tell us about is that puddles on the ground can look like holes because there are issues with perception and depth perception and color perception,” said Phipps. “You know when you go into a shop and they used to have those big black mats in front of the door … for some people with dementia that looks like a massive abyss.”
Imagine being faced with large holes in the ground. It would be confusing and alarming. Phipps said this means people with dementia won’t go into shops, or they won’t enter bathrooms because the shiny floors look like water.
“If your brain was working 100% you would probably be able to perceive the difference between shiny and wet,” she said. “But if there’s damage in your brain you just can’t quite make the judgment. Those things seem small but they can have a huge impact.”
12. Aggression and confusion may come from these small perception errors
Small changes can have big impacts on how people with dementia live. It may be something small that is confusing them with a simple fix, but the person with dementia may not be able to articulate the problem.
“There’s a big movement now for people who are showing signs of aggression or agitation, and rather than immediately giving them anti-psychotic drugs, is to try and look at their environment,” said Phipps. “Because it might be something really small like a change in routine or a change in the lamps or the way shadows are being cast around the room that could be having a massive impact on their level of anxiety, causing them to be agitated and aggressive.”
Small tweaks to their environment, like having more lights or keeping the curtains open, could have a big impact on their quality of life.
13. Disrupted sleep can be a factor
Research has shown that disrupted sleep may be associated with a higher risk of early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. This could mean that sleeping badly is an early warning sign of someone developing dementia.
Bad sleep could either be a symptom of dementia, or a cause — or it could be that both are true.
Other research supports the sleep theory, with one study finding that just one night of disrupted sleep could lead to a spike in Alzheimer’s-related proteins.
14. There is no cure or treatment for the progression of diseases that cause dementia
There is currently no cure for the diseases that cause dementia, and no treatments that will modify the progression.
Some drugs can help people to address certain symptoms, but they don’t stop the disease progressing in the brain.
This is why understanding that dementia may be preventable is so important, Phipps said, because increased awareness means more research.
“There seems to be less stigma, and people seem to be more open about talking about diagnosis with someone, or having a conversation with somebody with dementia,” she said. “I think awareness of dementia is better than it’s ever been, but understanding of dementia hasn’t quite caught up.”
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I watched you as a child. Reading your Bible almost every morning that I can recollect. I watched you do crossword puzzles with ease. It was so fun trying to help you solve those, by the way. I repeatedly combed your hair and pretended to be a beautician. Those things come to mind when I think of you.
I can remember the big breakfast you and my grandmother always made when I spent the night. It was so big, I had to take large bites. Yummy it was and so good to the taste, I helped you wash the dishes you used to make it in. Our trips to the grocery store in your Dodge car that was golden. Golden just like your heart. I loved sharing a bed with you when I was over for the night. Boy, how you did snore! It was a good thing I slept later than you because I really never slept well. You would have the windows out at night and I would find myself watching the curtains sway with the breeze blowing in. Yes, nighttime sleep was near impossible, but I loved it just the same. Those times were priceless.
When I first heard the you had Alzheimer’s I was devastated. I do not remember if I fully knew what all that meant for you, for me. I moved into your home to help ease the burden my grandmother had, trying to take care of you. It was not hard at first. Gradually things started to get harder and harder though. No more did you work in your crossword puzzles, no more reading your Bible or any other book for that matter. You stopped cooking because it had become a danger to you. Suddenly I was taking care of you. There would be no more you caring after me. It was my turn. my turn to try to repay your love for me for so many years. I often found myself fighting back the tears, trying to remain positive. I often told myself that no matter how difficult caring for you was, I could hang in there and do it. Sadly, the care was not enough. Things changed and it was time for you to go to a care facility, your sister, my grandmother and I could no longer do it on our own.
After you were in that rest home, I would find it very difficult to visit you and see you in that place. They pulled your teeth out and you were reduced to a liquid diet. If they knew that you loved food as much as I knew, they would had not done that. I thought that was sad. I remember you falling several ties out of bed because they failed to put your handrails up attached to your bed. Honestly that made me so mad I wanted to say something but my grandmother told me not to. She was afraid if we caused a stink they would kick you out and we had very few options. I saw on several occasions the other residence had been in your room. You were unable to defend yourself and they were rummaging through your things and taking them. I spoke to the attending nurse and she simply said that she could not be in your room twenty-four seven and keep things from happening like that. My thoughts were, “Then why do we pay you?”
It was really hard to see these things that happened to you. Your teeth were pulled out because you had no one to brush your teeth properly. Which is a terrible reason. You also had things stolen that we gave you. That was criminal. You were left in the same position for hours on end and never taken outside, unless I came and rolled you out. You really loved that sunshine on your face, too. I saw you go down hill so fast. I saw mistreatment given to you. It broke my heart. I still knew you could feel, and think inside your head, regardless of the Alzheimer’s. You were hard to visit near the end of your days. I knew that the old you was inside you and fighting to come out but your body betrayed you. I admit I simply quit visiting in the weeks before you died. I could not bear the thought of it all and see you so faded. I am sorry I was weak and not strong. I am sorry it was wrong of me to never come back. I’d give anything to have that one more sunlight on your face.
Alzheimer’s is terrible. Having it, robs you of your present memories, your joy, your personality. I watched it change my great-aunt into a mean, and hateful person. It was not her fault. It was the disease that did that to her. Now there is more research, more medicine, more knowledge but back in the eighties there was not much known about the disease. I wish my great-aunt had of had the tools we see today, in the treatment for Alzheimer’s.
In memory and honor of my Great Aunt, Camille.
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