For most seniors, one of the most frightening aspects of growing older is the thought of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Whether you are nearing your “Golden Years” yourself, or you have a loved one who is, you need to understand Alzheimer’s disease. To help you learn more about the disease. Parman & Easterday explain what you should know about Alzheimer’s.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Most people associate Alzheimer’s disease with dementia and the loss of memory. While those are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, the disease is considerably more complicated than that. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex. Unlike many other diseases, such as AIDS, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s has a single cause. Instead, they believe the disease is multi-faceted with a number of factors influencing the development of the disease. Scientists are currently focusing on amyloid and tau proteins, whose malformation are classic characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease; however, other factors likely help determine who develops the disease, including vascular health, inflammation, lifestyle, and possibly even viral causes.
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
Although we are working hard to find an accurate way to predict, with certainty, who will develop Alzheimer’s, we are not there yet. Scientists and doctors do, however, believe that there are risk factors that increase your odds of developing the disease, including:
- Age – experts tell us that age is the greatest risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The older you are, the higher the risk is of developing the disease. One in nine people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, and this figure rises to one in three for people over the age of 85.
- Family History – experts also appear to agree that family plays a role in predicting who will develop Alzheimer’s disease. A family history of Alzheimer’s disease will increase your chance of getting the condition, particularly if it is a brother, sister, mother or father who had/has the disease. The risk is greater if more than one family member has or has had the disease.
- Genetics — researchers have identified certain mutated genes associated with the disease. Anyone who inherits a copy of the APOE-e4 gene is at greater risk, and the risk is even greater if they inherit two copies of the gene. There are also deterministic genes which, if inherited, would guarantee the onset of the disease. This only accounts for around 1 percent of Alzheimer’s cases and often the patients suffer from early-onset.
- Head Injury – we don’t hear much about this one, but there is evidence to suggest that head trauma may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, particularly repeated head trauma.
- Heart Health — the risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases if you suffer from conditions that can affect the heart, such as stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
- Race — Latinos and African Americans are one and one-half to two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than Caucasians. The reason for this is unclear, although many think the higher rate of heart problems in Latinos and African Americans may be the cause.
Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures
Some of the facts and figures relating to Alzheimer’s disease may be shocking as they highlight how pervasive the disease really is in the U.S.
- Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds.
- 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s.
- Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
- An estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s.
- Nearly 44 million people have the disease worldwide
- Only 1-in-4 people worldwide with Alzheimer’s disease have been diagnosed.
- By 2050, an estimated 14 million people will be living with Alzheimer’s
- Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
- 1 million people provide unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in America
- Between 2000 and 2015, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 123 percent
- By 2050, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds.
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