Americans’ average life expectancy is 78, meaning there are plenty of people living well into their 90s. And as advances in healthcare and technology increase, the 65+ population is growing quickly. The Administration on Aging predicts that the U.S. will have 55 million seniors in 2020.
But living longer also means more people will suffer from what is perhaps our greatest threat to older Americans today: Alzheimer’s. The brain disease causes a decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills, which in turn makes caregiving difficult for loved ones – mentally, emotionally, physically and sometimes financially.
The good news is, scientists around the globe are working hard to find a cure for the disease, and there are ways you can fight back against Alzheimer’s. Here are 10 ideas to help you fight against Alzheimer's.
- Raise funds for Alzheimer’s research. There are countless ways to help raise funds that don’t involve cold calling! You can search the Alzheimer’s Association’s website (http://www.alz.org) for a local fundraising “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” or sign up for a credit card that allows you to donate a portion of your purchases to the charity of your choice (http://www.nerdwallet.com). Using search engines like Good Search (http://www.goodsearch.com/ or making purchases through socially responsible shopping sites like iGive (http://www.igive.com) or GiftBack (http://www.giftback.com).
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Although more evidence is needed, research indicates that high intake of omega-3s may reduce the risk of dementia or cognitive decline. That’s because DHA is found in the fatty membranes of the brain’s nerve cells, especially where the cells connect.
- Create a baseline. Because early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease is an inherited genetic disorder, it’s important to create a cognitive baseline against which you can compare changes down the road. No one test can confirm Alzheimer’s disease, getting a diagnosis – especially for early onset – may require a medical exam, cognitive tests, a neurological exam and/or brain imaging. A cognitive skills training specialist can measure your brain skills to help you create a baseline.
- Exercise regularly. Studies show that even moderate exercise may decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and/or change its course once the disease begins to develop.
- Talk to your doctor about medications. Currently there are two types of medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These are cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine. Some doctors prescribe both together. While these drugs aren’t cures for the disease, they can help lessen symptoms like memory loss and confusion.
- Sign up for a clinical trial. Participation in clinical trials is one way you can contribute to the fight against Alzheimer’s – and it’s not just people with the disease who are needed! Researchers need help from healthy volunteers and caregivers as well to help detect, treat and prevent Alzheimer’s. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website (http://www.alz.org) to check out TrialMatch, a free service that connects volunteers with current studies across the country.
- Enroll in personal brain training. We now know that the brain is "plastic" – capable of change at any age – and customized brain training programs have proved to be incredibly effective in strengthening weak brain skills in seniors. Allan Wren, director of a LearningRx (www.LearningRx.com) brain training center in Texarkana, put his own father through cognitive skills training after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. "He attended two three-month 'Think' programs with a small break in between," says Wren. "He achieved a 20 percent gain in short-term memory in his first and second efforts." Those kinds of gains can make a significant impact on quality of life for both the person with Alzheimer's and their family members, as short-term memory is one of the first brain skills to be impacted by the disease.
- Ask about vitamin E. Because vitamin E is an antioxidant, it may protect brain cells and other tissues when used under doctor supervision. But high doses can increase your risk of death – especially if you have coronary artery disease. In addition, vitamin E can interact with medications, like blood thinners and cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Manage your diabetes. Research seems to indicate that people with diabetes – especially type 2 – have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The best things you can do is manage your diabetes by eating healthy, exercising, taking prescribed medications on schedule and monitoring your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Sign up to be an advocate. Join the Alzheimer’s Association in speaking up for the needs and rights of those affected by the disease. As a volunteer advocate, you can contact elected officials through letters and phone calls to help persuade them to address pressing needs through legislative action. To find out more, visit www.alz.org.