Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. It actually kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined (1). Instead of putting the focus on preventing Alzheimer’s, the medical community puts emphasis on slowing the progression of the disease after onset with drugs and therapy. However, if you truly understand dementia, then you can change your lifestyle to protect your brain from cognitive decline before it happens.
What is Dementia
According to the Alzheimer’s Association: “Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life… Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.” (2)
Dementia is characterized by the impairment of at least two of these mental functions:
- Communication and language
- Ability to focus and pay attention
- Reasoning and judgment
- Visual perception
Dementia is a progressive illness, meaning that it gets worse as it progresses. It may start with forgetting where you placed your keys and can turn into forgetting your relatives or forgetting to eat.
The disease causes damage to brain cells and interferes with cell communication. This affects thinking, judgment, movement, behavior and feelings.
Risk factors for dementia include (3):
- Head injuries
- Impaired thyroid function
- Low physical activity
- Poor diet and vitamin deficiencies
- Certain medication
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Alcohol use
- Old age
- Family history of Alzheimer’s disease
If you find yourself in these risk factor categories, taking steps in preventing Alzheimer’s now can improve cognitive function in older age.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is actually the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases.