It was just a medical term I had read in newspapers and magazines. All I knew about it was that it was related to memory loss and old age. Never in my worst nightmare did I dream of Alzheimer’s becoming my reality until six years ago when my brother John was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. He worked as an architect in California. A well-bred, well-educated and empathetic gentleman who cared for everyone around him. I remember he let me live at his place rent-free when I lost my job.
It is heart-wrenching to see somebody so close to you not recognize you and be whittled away by this hideous disease. He is fading away by inches and by bits and pieces. And all I can do is stand and watch. It is horrible and torturous. The experience is so cruel and ruthless that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. My brother had no family for he never married. So I am his primary caregiver. Life was a bed of roses for him until one day he bumped his head on a flagpole.
Then, it was twilight. The darkness began to envelop every facet of his life. He was only 47 when he began forgetting things, numbers, and dates. (He was really good at numbers before that) All of a sudden, he was asking me how to insert the key into the ignition. I was surprised by this abrupt change and knew something was wrong. We went to see a neurologist who took some brain-imaging tests and came up with this earth-shattering diagnosis. His life and mine came to a standstill. Now every day is a struggle – a struggle to button up the T-shirt, a struggle to park the car right and a struggle to get through the day alive.
I can go on and on about the medications the doctors prescribed or the researches we tried, the number of times I yelled at God, and the fact that he doesn’t remember his date of birth. But that is not what I am here for. I don’t want to write a sad, depressing account of how everything spiraled downward into an abyss of hopelessness and melancholy. Actually, I wish to pen words of hope and optimism. We will discuss the risk factors that increase your risk for Alzheimer’s so that you may influence your chances consciously. Although the tunnel is dark and rocky, there is light at its end. The dawn will come for those who have the courage to survive the night.
Assessing Risk For Alzheimer’s disease
Scientists are trying to find ways to prevent Alzheimer’s before it comes knocking at your doorstep. Extensive research is taking place even as you read this. Everyone hopes to put together the answer before it becomes a global issue. Here are a few risk factors that you can and can’t avoid:
Increasing age poses a serious risk for Alzheimer’s. It is not exactly known why this happens. But cognitive function does show a decline as one grows older. According to studies, the disease is more common among individuals aged 65 and older. In fact, one in nine people in this age group and nearly one-third of people age 85 and older have Alzheimer’s.
Scientists have noticed that people who have a close relative already suffering from the disease are more likely to have it than those without a family history. For, if you have a cousin, uncle or sibling who succumbed to Alzheimer’s, then there is a high probability that you will also have the disease. Genetic studies have found that individuals who inherit one or two copies of APOE-e4 gene are more susceptible to it. Other genes that determine your chances are those that code for amyloid precursor protein(APP), presenilin I (PS I ) and presenilin II (PS II).
Avoid Serious, Traumatic Head Injury
There is substantial research that links Alzheimer’s with a head injury and blows to the head. Especially important are the injuries where you lose consciousness and bleed or injuries followed by memory loss. It is correct that you can’t control your genes but you can prepare for unwanted head injuries.
- Wear a helmet while riding bikes and bicycles.
- Buckle your seatbelt while traveling by car.
- Foolproof your home to avoid falling down the stairs or bumping into the wall unexpectedly.
Take Care Of Your Heart
The heart supplies the brain through a dense network of subclavian, carotid and vertebral arteries. Now, there exists a strong head-heart connection. The head functions efficiently only when all of its parts receive adequate oxygen. The haem in blood supplies oxygen. So avoid getting sick from cardiovascular illnesses like myocardial infarction, Stroke, Diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Plagues and tangles in the blood vessels supplying the brain are more likely to bring about Alzheimer symptoms.
A regular exercise routine not only stimulates blood supply to the brain but also keeps you fitter, younger and stronger. It also reduces symptoms of dementia.
Eat The Mediterranean Diet
By a Mediterranean diet, we mean a food plan rich in fruits, vegetables and cereals and low in fats, sugars and red meat. According to research, eating a balanced, Mediterranean diet can reduce your risk for dementia and subsequent brain damage. Avoid smoking and refrain from drinking especially in your middle age.
Play Sudoku And Scrabble
The play store has a wide collection of interesting games that challenge your brain to improve cognitive function. Keep in mind that the brain is a muscle and like other muscles of the body, its efficiency increases with practice and exercise. So craft a few words out of random letters and polish your chess moves.
Say No To Alzheimer’s
It is true that genetic and aging are the causes of Alzheimer’s that are beyond our control. But we decide what we eat and how often we hit the gym. The fate is not entirely preplanned but you can create your own destiny to a great extent. There are some factors like exposure to metals and air pollution that are notorious for causing Alzheimer’s. They are, however, not discussed here because there is a lack of consensus over their effect.