By Dr. Nishiena Gandhi
Optum New Mexico neurologist
About 43,000 New Mexicans age 65 or older suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, according to the New Mexico chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. One of the most common forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that begins with memory loss and can potentially lead to the inability to converse and respond to the environment.
Because Alzheimer’s can seriously impact a person’s ability to carry out daily activities, the disease’s reach extends beyond the patient, impacting 85,000 unpaid caregivers in the state. The number of New Mexico residents afflicted is projected to increase 23 percent to 53,000 people by 2025, as the population ages. Symptoms of the disease tend to appear after age 60, the risk increasing with age. Beyond the age of 65, the number of people living with this disease doubles every five years. While less common, young people can also get Alzheimer’s disease.
Though there is no cure, there is increasing evidence showing that adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors may increase brain health and possibly reduce the risk of subjective cognitive decline later in life. Optum New Mexico has recently partnered with the New Mexico chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to help increase awareness of the disease and to encourage residents to discuss with their primary care physician preventive measures that may help protect the brain.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s never too late or too early to incorporate healthy habits into your daily lifestyle. Here is a list of their Top 10:
1. Break a sweat
Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
2. Hit the books
Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.
- Butt out
Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
- Follow your heart
Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
- Heads up!
Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
- Fuel up right
Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.
- Catch some Zzz’s
Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
- Take care of your mental health
Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
- Buddy up
Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or, just share activities with friends and family.
- Stump yourself
Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.
While scientists do not know everything about the disease and are still conducting research, the current understanding is that there is not one cause; instead, there may be several contributing factors to its development. In addition to age, these could include family history/genetics, diet, education, and environment.
In addition to memory loss, other common signs of Alzheimer’s onset are difficulty performing familiar tasks; decreased or poor judgement; repeating questions or getting lost going to familiar places; changes in mood, personality or behavior; and misplacing or losing things and unable to trace steps to find them.
Although these are common signs of early dementia, they don’t necessarily mean the person has Alzheimer’s disease.
For more info: Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website, https://www.alz.org/newmexico.