June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. According to Alzheimer’s Association’s report, there are 6.5 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the number is expected to reach 13 million by 2050. Most older adults who are older than age 65 are living with Alzheimer’s disease, however, Alzheimer’s disease is not considered a normal part of aging. Hence, not all older adults who are above age 65 will develop Alzheimer’s disease. As a matter of fact, some adults who are younger than age 65 can develop Alzheimer’s disease as well, it is called early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Many older adults with Alzheimer’s disease may not be aware of their symptoms. Research has shown that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease may experience damage to the brain that starts a decade before symptoms show. The table below indicates the behavioral and personality changes of Alzheimer’s disease in different stages:
|Mild Alzheimer’s Disease
|Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease
|Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
|Increased memory loss and confusion
|Inability to communicate
|Poorer judgment that can cause bad decisions
|Inability to learn new things
|Shortened attention span
|Losing things or misplacing items
|Difficulty organizing thoughts
|Taking longer time to complete tasks
|Difficulty recognizing family and friends
|Increased anxiety and/or aggression
|Restlessness, anxiety, tearfulness, agitation
|Groaning, grunting, or moaning
|Tendency to wander and get lost
|Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
|Loss of bowel and bladder control
|Starting to show mood and personality changes
|Difficulty carrying out multistep tasks
Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
While Alzheimer’s disease may be a common medical condition for many older adults, the uncommon form of dementia that affects people who are younger than age 65 is considered early-onset Alzheimer’s. There are about 5% to 6% of people experience young-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms between age 30 and 60. Although research still has not found a reliable explanation to prove the causes of young-onset Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have found that it is very unlikely (could still be possible) that young-onset Alzheimer’s disease is caused by genetic factors. Individuals who have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease do not necessarily indicate that there is a gene mutation that could cause Alzheimer’s disease in future generations. On the other hand, a lack of family history of Alzheimer’s disease does not prevent individuals to not developing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease either.
The symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease closely mirror the symptoms of other forms of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Forgetting important dates and things
- Repetitively asking for the same information
- Misplacing things and not being able to retrace steps to find things
- Noticing changes in mood and personality
- Losing track of time/location/date
Unfortunately, experts are not entirely sure if there is an actual way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, it is recommended to look for any of the early warning signs and seek professional consultation from your healthcare provider. However, there are other treatments and lifestyle changes that can be made to slow down the progress of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Research has identified several risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease to look out for, these include high body mass index (BMI), depression, stress, diabetes, and smoking. Many studies also mentioned that lifestyle factors are shown to correlate with a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease rates, but no proven Alzheimer’s prevention strategies are found.
To slow down the progress of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, here are some ways you can consider:
Increase physical activity
- Researchers found that higher physical activity is linked to less cognitive decline. At least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity are recommended. Physical activity plays a significant role in one’s health, as well as emphasizing the importance of healthy aging.
Change of diet
- Nutrition pairs well with physical activity; studies have shown that the combination of both can potentially change the trajectory of developing cognitive impairment and dementia. Some recommended diets that have well-known health benefits are Mediterranean and DASH, which are designed to help slow brain decline.
- Brain-Healthy Food that you should add to your plates includes green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, berries, and beans.
- Combinations of Foods that may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms: sugary snacks, starches (i.e. potato), processed meat
Engage in strength-building activities
- Activities that can build your strength tend to work your major muscles, which helps to control the sugar level in your blood and reduce the risk of diabetes. It is recommended to do strength-building activities on at least two or more days each week. Strength-building activities to consider are yoga, Tai Chi, dancing, lifting weights (which could be heavy objects in the home), heavy gardening, push-ups, and sit-ups.
Keep yourself mentally and socially active
- Stress and depression are two risk factors mentioned that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease, hence, it is important to engage in mental and social activities to build up the brain ability to cope with stress and improve mood.
- Find activities that can challenge your brain and do them regularly to provide mental stimulation. Consider trying puzzles, crosswords, quizzes, card games, and board games. Other activities that require your creativity and are good for the brain include arts and crafts, reading books, and creative writing/journaling.
- Social activities are good for the brain; when you have a conversation with someone, it helps to exercise a range of your mental skills. Some conversational actions that involve mind engagement are actively listening, expressing empathy, evaluating people’s words, and recalling things when it’s your turn to share.
For more information on Early-onset Alzheimer’s:
By: Jessica Lau, MHC