Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive mental condition that affects brain functioning and worsens with the passage of time. In fact, in the late stages of the disease, patients need assistance in their daily, everyday activities, such as eating, bathing, and even dressing.
Alzheimer’s disease does not have a cure, and scientists have yet to ascertain the causes of this disease. However, there are a few risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Most of these risk factors are beyond our control, but a few can be kept in check by making lifestyle changes.
Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease
There are higher chances for developing Alzheimer’s with increasing age. Thus, one in nine individuals over 65 is likely to develop Alzheimer’s, whereas the frequency increases in one in three people over 85 years of age.
Women are more likely to get Alzheimer’s than men—at rates almost 1.5 to 3 times higher as compared to men. This could be because women live longer than men and the chances of Alzheimer’s increase with age, thus making women more susceptible.
Two classes of genes correlated to Alzheimer’s have been identified by researchers. The deterministic gene, when found in individuals, guarantees the onset of the disease at an earlier age, usually in a person’s 30s, 40s, or 50s. The second gene is the risk gene. The presence of this gene in individuals increases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s, but does not guarantee its onset, as in the case of the deterministic gene. The apolipoprotein E-e4 gene has been found to be the risk gene most commonly correlated with the occurrence of Alzheimer’s.
- Family history
A family history of Alzheimer’s increases the chances of getting the disease, especially if more than one member, including parent, child, or siblings has the disease, in which case the chance is compounded.
- Head trauma
In case of serious head injuries that involve loss of consciousness or repeated injuries to the head, the chances of Alzheimer’s increase.
Research has revealed that smokers are more likely to get Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia compared to non-smokers.
- Brain abnormalities
Abnormalities found in the brain, such as plaques (tiny clumps of protein), tangles (twisted protein strands), tissue shrinkage, inflammation, and loss of brain cell connections are all signs that Alzheimer’s might develop in the future.
Other lifestyle habits and disorders that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s include high blood pressure, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity. Also, a lack of social interaction and mental activities increases the chances of the disease. Mental stimulation can be achieved via reading, obtaining higher education, playing musical instruments, solving puzzles, and performing jobs of interest.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
The disease can be diagnosed by doctors through a combination of diagnostic measures, including administering tests to evaluate loss of memory and thinking capacity, looking for changes in behavior, and assessing functional capabilities. Additional laboratory tests, such as brain image testing and memory testing, are carried out to rule out other impairments and confirm the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.