Despite recent gains in Alzheimer’s research, the statistics around the disease remain staggering. More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s today, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Thirty-three percent of seniors have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia at the time of their passing. It’s no surprise, then, that researchers are working tirelessly to learn more about the disease, how to prevent it, and, hopefully, cure it. While there doesn’t seem to be a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease, there are factors that can increase one’s risk of developing it.
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Though some of the top risk factors for Alzheimer’s are uncontrollable, certain lifestyle changes can lower your risk. Let’s take a look at some of the top causes of the disease:
Age. All research points to age as the number one determining factor in developing Alzheimer’s. Once you hit 65, your risk doubles every five years. At 85, you are at a 50% risk of being diagnosed. Today in the US, more than one-third of people over the age of eighty-five have Alzheimer’s.
Family History and Genetics. Research suggests that you are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s if a first-degree relative, like a parent or sibling, has had it. In terms of genetics, while there is not a proven genetic mutation connected to the disease, scientists have identified what they term risk genes in the context of Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Sleep Habits and Head Trauma. Poor sleep habits have been identified as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. There is a growing collection of data connecting sleep deprivation with dementia as well as with the formulation of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain – the protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Also, those who have suffered past head trauma are at higher risk. One study indicates that adults with an instance of moderate brain injury demonstrate a 2.3 times greater risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; in those with a history of severe brain injury, the risk jumps to 4.5 times higher.
Lifestyle. Many risk factors that are associated with heart disease can also increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s. These include obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and lack of exercise. Work toward reversing these risk factors by eating right, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking.
Social Engagement. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, like getting together with friends and pursuing opportunities for learning, has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. One study saw socially active seniors’ potential for cognitive decline reduced by as much as 70%.
If you recognize any of these risk factors in yourself or a loved one, don’t fret. The above are only potential risk factors, and many variables affect each person’s risk for developing the disease. Start by scheduling an appointment with your trusted family doctor to discuss your cause for concern.