When you should be worried about dementia – and when you shouldn’t
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can be a scary thought as we or our loved ones age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors today pass away from Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. But a 2017 study may help curb these worries.
According to the research, published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, seniors with just one or two early signs of Alzheimer’s disease may not develop full-blown dementia in their lifetimes. The researchers found seniors who had multiple early signs of the disease–things like brain shrinkage, mild memory loss and high levels of amyloid protein in the brain–were at the highest risk. However, seniors with only one of these signs had a much lower risk. This, in part, depends on each person’s age and life expectancy, but for most people, a single early sign of Alzheimer’s is no reason to be afraid of mental decline right away.
While this is encouraging news, Dr. Daniel Litoff, an internal medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Ill., says we should still be alert for important warning signs of dementia.
“The most common sign is difficulty with everyday tasks requiring short term memory,” says Dr. Litoff. “This includes missing appointments, forgetting to pay bills, misplacing items at home and forgetting where they are, getting lost when driving, repeating questions multiple times and so on. If family and caregivers notice behaviors like these, they should bring their loved one to a physician for evaluation.
Dr. Litoff says simple tests in the office can differentiate between someone with mild forgetfulness versus early signs of dementia.
Seeing these signs can be frightening, but it’s best to avoid uncertainty and take your loved one to a doctor right away. Although there are not any strong tests yet to predict your risk of Alzheimer’s before showing symptoms, your doctor can also talk to you about ways to keep your brain healthy and protected against Alzheimer’s or dementia as much as possible. Dr. Litoff says the most important step is to live a healthy lifestyle and protect your heart.
“A healthy heart equals a healthy brain,” he explains. “Many patients with dementia have vascular disease of the brain. Strokes are one of the causes of vascular disease, but they can be prevented by treating high blood pressure and cholesterol. You can also prevent diabetes, another cause of vascular disease, by avoiding obesity and exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week.”
Some studies have shown that doing simple activities to keep your mind active can also help, and this is an excellent habit to develop early in life.
“The most important thing to remember is that dementia is a disease – it’s not inevitable, and it’s not part of normal aging,” says Dr. Litoff. “If you see signs of cognitive decline in a loved one, they should be evaluated.”
However, mild forgetfulness or aging alone are no guarantee that someone will develop dementia in the near future, or at all. Each person’s case is unique, and your doctor can help you take steps to remain as healthy and happy as possible as you age.
About the Author
Sophie Mark, health enews contributor, is a Public Affairs Intern at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. She is also a student at Loyola University Chicago, where she is completing her degrees in Advertising/Public Relations and English. In her free time she loves reading, baking, and exploring the city.