According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing — and growing fast. An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Here are five things you should know.
- Alzheimer’s is fatal, but treatable. Alzheimer’s disease is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Upon diagnosis, many people assume nothing can be done to help them, but that’s not the case. In fact, some people will even downplay their symptoms to their care provider. But there are treatments that can stabilize symptoms temporarily so people can have a higher level of functioning for a longer period of time.
- Age is the greatest risk factor of developing Alzheimer’s. You may think Alzheimer’s runs in your family and you’re destined to get it. If you have a first-degree relative (a parent or sibling) who has the disease, your risk of being diagnosed is double compared to the general population. However, the greatest risk factor is age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the likelihood of developing the disease doubles about every five years after the age of 65. And after the age of 85, the risk reaches close to 50 percent.
- Brain health matters and may make a difference. Adopting healthy habits can reduce your risk of cognitive decline. Eating a brain-healthy diet that includes dark, leafy vegetables and is low in saturated fats can help. Researchers have also found that being socially active, exercising and getting enough sleep can also improve your cognitive health.
- Forgetfulness is not the same thing as Alzheimer’s. Who hasn’t forgotten their wallet or temporarily lost their keys? But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have Alzheimer’s. Health care professionals get concerned when there is an impact on a person’s day-to-day activities, or if it’s affecting their job or if they can’t manage their finances when they were able to before. It’s time to see a doctor when you forget the big things, things you would not have forgotten before. If you have a standing appointment or date and begin forgetting that, it might be time to seek help.
- African Americans and women are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s. African-Americans are more likely to develop the disease than white Americans. And two-thirds of the five million seniors with Alzheimer’s are women. For African-Americans, some of it may be genetic, but lifestyle factors play a role as well, including mid-life hypertension. For a long time, it was thought that women had a higher prevalence rate because they lived longer than men. While that’s true, it might not be the only explanation. Researchers believe that women may process the APOE gene differently than men and hormonal differences may also play a role.