Normal signs of aging include sensory declines, such as changes in how we see, touch, hear, smell, and taste. It becomes harder to concentrate and pay attention, and to retain the information we have just acquired. It is also normal to occasionally forget why we came into a room or the day of the week it is. Some of these problems are due to stress, age, and family history. Others are reversible and, if brought up during a doctor’s visit, can be appropriately treated. Treating thyroid problems, medication side effects, poor nutrition, depression, high fever, and infections may reverse the condition.
Yet, there are some causes of memory loss that worsen over time. This can be attributed to various forms of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. The sixth leading cause of death in America, this disease attacks cells in the brain causing disabilities affecting one’s ability to work, get along with friends and family, and participate in lifelong hobbies. Those inflicted with the disease begin having language problems, such as trouble finding the right words in a sentence or substituting the incorrect ones. Eventually individuals in the later stages must depend completely on the assistance of a caregiver with tasks such as eating, bathing, and dressing oneself.
Research has shown cardiovascular exercises improve thinking by enhancing oxygen-rich blood flow to certain parts of the brain. Exercise not only slows down the effects of aging, but also improves the areas that control thinking and memory. Playing challenging games, reading, and word puzzles are examples of ways to reduce the risk of dementia. Exercising your spirit through living a socially active life has also been shown to provide some protection for the brain.
Learning a new language, keeping up with current events, and continuing to challenge yourself daily are other ways to keep your mind active, along with getting the right amount of sleep for each individual.
Keeping track of your health and family history through doctor visits is an incredibly useful tool. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol are also at risk for vascular dementia after suffering a stroke. Studies have also shown that obese women over 70 have a substantially high risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Limiting alcohol intake has also been shown to reduce dementia in older adults according to a 2003 study by the Journal of American Medical Association.
Those who eat a diet rich in lean meats, “good” fats, vegetables, and fruits during their midlife are shown to have a reduced risk of dementia.
Supplements such as Vitamin E, C, and folic acid are also said to possibly play a role in prevention. Ongoing studies done through UCLA’s neurology department are studying the anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol reducing properties of circumin, the main phytochemical found in turmeric. The characteristics of this component are being studied as a possible way to protect individuals from the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to an article compiled by researchers at the Regional Health Forum WHO South-East Asia Region, India has the lowest incidences of Alzheimer’s. “Studies done in South India, Mumbai, and the northern state of Haryana in India have reported very low rates of occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease in those at 65 years of age or older, ranging from about 1% in rural north-India (the lowest reported from anywhere in the world where Alzheimer’s disease has been studied systematically) to 2.7 in urban Chennai.”
Various universities and pharmaceutical companies have referred to studies discussing these findings with the main focus on the role of turmeric in the Indian diet.
Currently the only medications available are aimed to lessen degrees of symptoms. However, ongoing research may one day be able to cure the disease; but at this time, the cause and cure are unknown.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a national voluntary health organization dedicated to funding research for the causes, cure, and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. The organization runs a 24-hour information and referral helpline, and a caller can learn about the association’s core services, which include education and training, care consultations, support groups and the Safe Return program (through Medic-Alert).
You can help make a difference by participating in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk, or volunteering on the helpline, in the office, or becoming a member of the Speaker’s Bureau. You can also donate by giving to the Alzheimer’s Association to help advance research and maintain programs.
Janani Ramachandran holds a B.A. in neuroscience with a concentration in geriatrics from USC. She is an active volunteer in the aging community, and is currently a student intern with the Alzheimer’s Association. Association’s 24-hour helpline: (800) 272-3900. www.alzla.org.