First, the statistics: over 5 million people currently have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States alone, almost two thirds of those women. It’s estimated that by 2050, that number will triple. Over half a million people die from the disease every year.
Now the good news.
A study recently released by researchers at the University of Cambridge analyzed the contributing factors of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. What they found is that this debilitating degenerative disease can be prevented through lifestyle and diet changes in as many as one third of all cases:
“After accounting for non-independence between risk factors, around a third of Alzheimer’s diseases cases worldwide might be attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors. Alzheimer’s disease incidence might be reduced through improved access to education and use of effective methods targeted at reducing the prevalence of vascular risk factors (eg, physical inactivity, smoking, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, and diabetes) and depression.”
This should come as no surprise; the incidence of Alzheimer’s has increased steadily since 2000, from 411,000 new cases per year then to over 500,000 today. It’s anticipated that new cases by 2050 will be almost one million each year.
Even taking into consideration the aging population of Baby Boomers, this is an inordinate rise for this type of disease (similar increases are being experienced world-wide), especially in view of the fact that other life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and stroke have declined in the same period, presumably due to reductions in cigarette smoking and better recognition and management of hypertension and diabetes.
Am I a lost cause?
There are genetic factors that contribute to the development of neurodegenerative disease as with most other serious medical conditions; predisposition, however, doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion.
It’s the other–preventable–factors that are now apparent. With knowledge comes the power to stave off this type of horrendous disease.
The risks in the study in order of relevance in the U.S. are:
- Physical activity
- Low educational attainment
- High blood pressure