Alzheimer's disease is what many people fear the most as they approach their senior years. The most common form of dementia, it's an incurable illness that gradually destroys brain cells. For Alzheimer's sufferers, the body can be as healthy as a horse, but the mind slowly starts to drift away. It's no secret that many people want to know how to avoid Alzheimer's. But in order to know how to prevent dementia, scientists first have to know what causes it. And, unfortunately, the biology is not fully understood. But let's take a look of some of what we know about the causes of dementia and make some safe assumptions about how you can prevent Alzheimer's.What We KnowAlzheimer's causes are not fully understood. Some people may have certain genes that increase risk. African-Americans and Hispanics seem to have a higher risk. People with vascular problems caused by high cholesterol, high blood pressure or brain injuries also have higher risks. A healthy lifestyle throughout life may reduce risks. At first, Alzheimer's victims lose recent memories. Over time all memory can be lost. Gradually, patients lose the ability to think, remember and reason to the point that it interferes with the ability to function daily. Patients may not be able to use reminder notes, do routine tasks, talk and make decisions. Patients may undergo personality and behavior changes including aggressiveness, distrust or wandering. Some patients become passive and withdrawn, preferring to sit motionless in front of the TV. Some patients start losing weight quickly.
Some memory loss is normal with aging. However, thinking problems can cause serious troubles -- lost mail or money, missed medicine or meals, poor judgment, getting lost or putting important items in strange places.
Dementia often worsens until the patient must have constant care for safety and daily life.
Older people with Alzheimer's usually have other health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes. Alzheimer's can make managing other health conditions far more difficult.
Alzheimer's care can wipe out a lifetime of savings. A lot of Alzheimer's patients do not have insurance to cover long-term care. Many must sell their homes to pay for care or declare poverty to get state-provided insurance.
Family members -- many who also work or care for children -- provide unpaid home care for nearly 70 percent of Alzheimer's patients. Caregivers are often female relatives, who provide an average of 50 hours of care per week.
Many families absorb enormous out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance. The average out-of-pocket cost for Alzheimer's and dementia patients in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities has been estimated to be nearly $17,000 a year to cover additional costs not covered by insurance.
Family caregivers are at significant risk for depression or health problems themselves. One report showed that nearly one- fourth of caregivers required care in an emergency room or hospital in a six-month period.
A nationwide poll showed 85 percent of Americans believe that long-term care and support for people who can no longer independently care for themselves should be included in national health care reform legislation. What You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer'sKeep your brain as young as possible as you age. Reduce your chance of Alzheimer's by taking care of your health now. Keep your blood pressure, weight, blood sugar and other health measures in recommended ranges.Protect your brain. Avoid excess alcohol, stress, and improper use of medications. Buckle your seatbelt. Use a helmet for sports activities. Get help if you are depressed.Exercise your brain in addition to your body. Challenge your mind with puzzles, card games, playing musical instruments, sewing or other activities. Maintain social activities and interests to stimulate thinking.Get a check-up promptly if you have any signs of dementia. Today there are several medications that can help to slow down mental decline. The sooner treatment starts, the better.Plan ahead for finances, care and other ways to take care of yourself before you lose the ability.If you have dementia symptoms, have someone check your driving skills. Some patients can be safe drivers but get lost easily. At some point, it is smart to get help from others when you need to go places.Don't insist on care by family at home. Professional care can be much better than delayed or absent care.If you are a caregiver, take care of yourself too. Look for counseling and support services. Find ways to take time off. Ask friends and family for help. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce the emotional and physical burden of caregiving.