Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors and Prevention
By Raquel Barlow & Jeannine Skinner, Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center
Nashville, Tenn. – Alzheimer’s disease is a major public health burden that mostly affects persons aged 65 years and older. Adults aged 60 years and older are one of the fastest growing segments of the United States population and there currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. So, there is great need to manage and prevent health issues that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias – these health issues are commonly referred to as “risk factors.”
Researchers, including scientists at the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center, have identified several risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment is a condition where memory loss is greater than what is expected for normal aging but the problems are not bad enough to be called Alzheimer’s disease. Many people with mild cognitive impairment have symptoms that get worse over time. So, mild cognitive impairment is often considered a ‘grey zone’ between normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease.
Some risk factors for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease can be modified or changed while others cannot. Non-modifiable risk factors include your age, family history of Alzheimer’s disease, and sex. Getting older is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles about every five years starting after age 65 years. Family history of Alzheimer’s disease is another major risk factor. Individuals with an immediate family member (such as a brother, sister, or parent) with Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to develop the disease. Family history is important because families share genes, environments, and lifestyles, like eating a certain kind of food. Finally, women have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, possibly because women live longer, on average, than men.
Modifiable risk factors refer to risk factors that can be changed or treated like chronic health conditions and lifestyle factors. Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. Lifestyle factors, like eating food high in fat and sugar also increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Being physically inactive also increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, research shows that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain. Experts believe the best way to decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is to maintain good heart health. Managing chronic health conditions like hypertension and diabetes can help. There are several ways to maintain good heart health. First, a diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains but with limited fried food and added sugar is important. Research has also shown that regular exercise, like walking every day, can lead to better brain health.
Locally, researchers at the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center are learning more about risk factors related to developing Alzheimer’s disease. The Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center is particularly interested in how heart health is associated with brain health in older persons. For more information about our study examining the connection between heart and brain health or to schedule a medical appointment for a memory loss work-up, visit www.vanderbiltmemory.com or contact Stephanie Mayers, Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator at 615-875-3175.