Stop. Count to 67. Do it again.
In this time, two people have received a debilitating diagnosis, Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Alzheimer’s affects 5.1 million seniors above age 65, asserts the Alzheimer’s Association. Sadly, 33 percent of seniors who receive this diagnosis die, but new clinical studies, research, and breakthroughs hold the promise of stopping Alzheimer’s one day. Until then, senior caregiver training must fill the void by teaching what factors contribute to Alzheimer’s, signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and what proactive measures may help slow the disease’s progression.
Alzheimer’s Risk Factors
Age, family history, and genetics play a major role in Alzheimer’s development. Risk for developing Alzheimer’s increases dramatically upon reaching age 85. Seniors with a family history of Alzheimer’s may develop Alzheimer’s in response to genetics or environmental influences.
Seniors with the apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4) gene face a grave risk for developing Alzheimer’s, and scientists believe this gene accounts for 20 to 25 percent of all AD diagnoses. A person inherits two copies of APOE genes, one from the mother and one from the father. In some cases, a person may inherit the non-AD prevalent forms of APOE, APOE-e2 and APOE-e3. If a person inherits a combination of the APOE-e4 gene and a less harmful form, the risk rises slightly. However, inheriting APOE-e4 from both parents results in highest risk for AD.
Head trauma claims fourth place in risk for AD, and researchers hypothesize risk factors for vascular disease, which include diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and family history of vascular disease, may represent risk factors for AD as well. Therefore, Latinos and African Americans, who have an existing, higher risk for vascular disease, may have a higher risk for developing AD.
Since the risk factors continue to evolve, senior care training must include a focus on recognizing Alzheimer’s warning signs and symptoms.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of AD
The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 warning signs of the potential onset of Alzheimer’s. Senior care education should continually focus on recognizing these warning signs, which include the following:
- Memory loss that impacts ability to perform daily activities. For example, forgetting important dates, names, addresses, or other menial things.
- Experiencing difficulty in planning or solving problems. For example, being unable to solve simple problems or keep track of bills and payments.
- Experiencing difficulty in completing routine tasks, such as using cell phones, electronic devices, or rules to a game.
- Growing confused in relation to time and place, such as forgetting how a person traveled from home to the store or the current year.
- Experiencing difficulty reading, watching TV and viewing images, and judging distance.
- Having a hard time entering, continuing, or stopping a conversation or creating words for well-known items (auto-warmer for microwave).
- Misplacing belongings and being unable to retrace steps to find them.
- Exhibition of poor judgment, such as giving money to telemarketers or not bathing regularly.
- Withdrawing from work or social settings.
- Experiencing rapid changes in mood and personality, such as aggression, confusion, depression, fear, suspiciousness, or anxiety.
If a senior caregiver notices any of these warning signs, even if the sign seems like a normal occurrence for aging seniors, he or she should make an appointment with the senior’s physician. In addition, the occurrence of any of these signs in younger adults may indicate early-onset AD, and medical and behavioral intervention may be able to help.
Proactive Measures to Prevent Alzheimer’s
Although some cases of Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented, the key to staying proactive in the battle against Alzheimer’s rests on maintaining cognitive function and screening for the disease early. In an Alzheimer’s Association press release, Potential “One-Drop Blood Test Among New Projects Funded by Alzheimer’s Association and Global Down Syndrome Foundation, researchers are actively evaluating the effectiveness of reviewing a person’s risk for AD through analysis of markers within a single drop of blood, similar to a glucose test for diabetics.
“Prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia may be more effective and easily achieved than attempting to the treat the disease once symptoms already exist,” reports Director of Science Initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association Dean Hartley, Ph.D.
Since part of the risk for developing AD is associated with overall health and brain function, encouraging brain health and cognitive functions may be the best means of stopping the disease’s prevalence. As a result, senior caregiver training for AD should take a holistic, comprehensive approach.
1. Address Diet, and Exercise
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recommends those at risk for AD should follow seven nutritional guidelines, which include the following:
- Reducing consumption of saturated and trans fats.
- Eating plant-based foods.
- Consuming at least 15 milligrams of vitamin E from foods daily.
- Taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
- Avoiding copper- and zinc-containing vitamins.
- Reducing use of aluminum, such as eliminating baking powder from recipes.
- Exercising for at least 120 minutes per week.
2. Give the Brain a Rest
Some preliminary studies suggest sleep deprivation may be linked to increased risk for AD. However, researchers are unsure as to if the link rests on improving brain health or critical thinking skills. Specifically, those at risk should strive for seven hours of interrupted sleep.
3. Keep the Brain Engaged
Staying cognitively active throughout life is associated with a lower risk for AD, asserts the National Institute on Aging. Social interaction, which requires the use of critical thinking skills while following a conversation, performing physical activities, or playing games, increases cognitive functioning. Furthermore, performing critical thinking activities, such as completing crossword puzzles, seek-and-finds, and reading, has been associated with a 47 percent lower risk for AD. Senior caregiver training should include a section on ways to stay socially active and improve cognitive functioning through these activities.
Since pausing at the start of this article, at least seven people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Not accounting for inflation, the cost of Alzheimer’s will reach $1.1 trillion by 2050, and today’s senior caregiver training providers have a duty to help improve senior care through impartation of knowledge on the disease’s risk factors, warning signs, and possible preventable measures.