What you should know about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Increasing age is the highest known risk for Alzheimer’s disease though it’s not part of the ageing process. The chance increases greatly at 65 and the rate of dementia doubles every decade after age 60.

According a new health report, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease will double by 2060 as the baby boomer population ages.


A new research findings revealed cases of Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment going from 6 million this year to 15 million in four decades, and highlighted the need to better identify people with a brain-related disease, and to slow its progression.

Less than 5 percent of the time, Alzheimer’s is caused by specific genetic changes, and individuals with this rare genetic changes linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s begin experiencing symptoms as early as their 30s.

Scientists say the causes of Alzheimer’s aren’t yet fully understood. However, its effect on the brain is clear: it damages and kills brain cells.

A brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease has many fewer cells and many fewer connections among surviving cells than does a healthy brain; as more and more brain cells die, the illness leads to significant brain shrinkage.

People with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s disease, with symptoms appearing about 10 to 20 years earlier than they do for the normal population.

In addition, people who’ve had a severe head trauma seem to have a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Women are believed to be more likely than are men to develop Alzheimer’s disease, in part because they live longer.


Unfortunately, no lifestyle factor has been proven to reduce your risk of the disease, but obesity, cigarette smoking, lack of exercise high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, and diet lacking in vegetables and fruits, may aid one’s development of Alzheimer’s.

“There are about 47 million people in the U.S. today who have some evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s,” said study author Ron Brookmeyer, who is also a professor of biostatistics at the Fielding School of Public Health at University of California, Los Angeles.

“Many of them will not progress to Alzheimer’s dementia in their lifetimes. We need to have improved methods to identify which persons will progress to clinical symptoms, and develop interventions for them that could slow the progression of the disease, if not stop it altogether,” Brookmeyer said in a UCLA news release, noting that at the moment, there’s no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Research into prevention strategies is ongoing, and the strongest evidence so far suggests that you may be able to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by reducing your risk of heart disease.

Brookmeyer and his team of researchers used information from large Alzheimer’s studies to create a computer model to estimate the number of future Alzheimer’s cases.

The investigators found that by 2060, about 5.7 million Americans will have mild cognitive impairment and another 9.3 million will have full-blown Alzheimer’s. Part of those with Alzheimer’s, about 4 million will require intensive care, such as that provided in nursing homes.

“Estimates by disease state and severity are important because the resources needed to care for patients vary so much over the course of the illness,” Brookmeyer said.

The findings also showed that people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have significant short-term memory loss but do not necessarily have problems with daily functioning.

Those with MCI are more likely to go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, though MCI does not always lead to dementia.

In a full-blown Alzheimer’s disease case, the symptoms are more severe, and include memory loss as well as impaired judgment and thinking, problems with performing normal daily activities, distrust in others, mood swings, social withdrawal, apathy, depression, changes in sleeping habits, delusions, such as believing that something has been stolen and, sometimes, personality changes.

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Current Alzheimer’s disease medications and management strategies may temporarily improve symptoms, and these sometimes help people with the disease maximize function and maintain independence for a little while longer.

However, because there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, health experts say it is important to seek supportive services and tap into your support network as early as possible.