Alzheimer’s: How Can We Fight Back?
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia in the UK, affecting over 500,000 people – and public awareness is higher than ever, thanks partly to Terry Pratchett’s well-publicised diagnosis and death. But as we welcome Dementia Awareness Week (May 15-21), are we any closer to understanding Alzheimer’s causes – and preventing or curing it?
What causes Alzheimer’s?
In Alzheimer’s patients, beta-amyloid protein builds up to form ‘plaques’ or ‘tangles’ in the brain, preventing nerve cell connections and eventually causing loss of brain tissue. There is also a neurotransmitter shortage. These problems produce dementia symptoms such as memory loss, behaviour changes and a decreased ability to process information.
Can We Prevent Alzheimer’s?
Some risk factors for Alzheimer’s are unavoidable. Alzheimer’s is more common if:
- You’re over 65 (occurrence rapidly increases over 85)
- There is a family history of Alzheimer’s or you carry the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene or MTHFD1L gene
- You have Down’s syndrome
- You’re a woman, although it’s not clear why
Avoidable risk factors:
- Excessive alcohol
- Heart disease risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and being overweight
- A lack of mental activity – so keep your mind active by reading, playing games (e.g. chess) or word puzzles
- Diabetes, depression and head injury also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. While not necessarily ‘avoidable’, you can lower your chance of developing depression and diabetes through lifestyle choices and seek treatment for depression
Although more research is required, recent studies suggest risk can also be reduced by:
- Sleeping on your side rather than your back or stomach, allowing the brain to remove waste products more efficiently
- Getting enough sleep
- Reducing stress
- Staying sociable and avoiding loneliness
Following the MIND diet: plenty of vegetables (in particular, green leafy ones), along with nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine (in moderation), and limiting intake of red meats, butter, margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets, and fried or fast foods
Can We Cure Alzheimer’s?
Not yet. However, there are treatments to alleviate symptoms:
Cognitive Stimulation: enjoyable activities that stimulate thinking and encourage engagement.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy): to help sufferers discuss concerns and adopt more positive ways of thinking.
Alternative Therapies such as aromatherapy, massage or music therapy.
Drug treatments: There are a range of helpful drugs. Medicines to reduce depression, agitation, anxiety and aggression may also be given.
Hope for the Future
Researchers are working on Alzheimer’s prevention, identification of further genetic markers and potential treatments such as ultrasound waves and drugs already used for diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Further information and support:
National Dementia Helpline: 0300 2221122