Since I wrote my earlier blog on Alzheimer's, my own mother's mental status had changed so abruptly that we needed to hospitalize her to rule out a stroke, or low heart rate. And while she was surprisingly hypertensive on admission and her heart rates low enough to validate a pacemaker, her failing memory has yet to improve since she's been discharged home again.
So, in addition to her two siblings, my mother also has dementia. Because she is 90-years-old, her failing memory is assumed to be due to Alzheimer’s at this point. So, my life is saddened and my heart aches, as do those of others who live with dementias.
But, most importantly, my mother is happy. So we stay hopeful and use many of the Alzheimer's interventions I mentioned to you in previous blogs.
Seeing my mother go through this ordeal is a real reminder that we all want to do our best to prevent dementias. Like any health condition of aging, including cardiovascular problems, being educated about the risk factors for developing vascular dementias is important. Only then can you individualize your own approach to address as many modifiable risk factors as possible.
One thing no longer considered a risk factor is aluminum. Research has failed to prove that every day sources of aluminum—including cooking pots, deodorants, canned goods, or antacids—have any role in Alzheimer’s disease.
For all of us, the risk of developing “vascular dementias” does appear to be increased by many of the same conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. So those of you who know your heart risk factors will recognize many of the Alzheimer’s risk factors, including:
- High blood pressure levels,
- High LDL cholesterol levels,
- Family history,
- History of stroke, and
- Head trauma.
Our age and genetics are factors that are not within your control. In fact, most experts are in agreement that most cases of Alzheimer's disease are the result of what Dr. Sinatra calls a “perfect storm, “ which is usually the case with most health conditions. This means that there are complex interactions between our genetic structure and our environment that can tip the scale and jeopardize our precious brains.
For Alzheimer’s disease, one risk factor you can influence is head trauma. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there may be a strong link between serious head injuries—especially those involving a loss of consciousness—and future risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Protect your brain by buckling seat belts, wearing a helmet during athletic endeavors, and "fall-proofing" your home and work environments the same way you "baby-proof" for your little ones.
Other preventive strategies include:
- Staying socially connected, which in turn keeps you mentally active using that grey matter.
- Using your mind to learn new tasks or perform complex activity like puzzle making, knitting, etc.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol.
- Keep your weight at optimum level for your height.
- Exercise (both mind and body).
And when it comes to the other risk factors on the list (high blood pressure levels, diabetes, high LDL cholesterol levels), work with your physician to keep them well controlled with diet, exercise, targeted nutritional supplements, and medication if need be.
And there's good news for those of you that are currently supporting overall healthy aging by reducing your risk for heart disease. You've already been lowering your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
For more information on healthy aging and tips to prevent cardiovascular problems, visit Dr. Sinatra’s Web site.