An irreversible, chronic neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells and disrupts an individual’s thinking ability as well as memory. It is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer who had first identified the disease in 1906. A fatal disease, Alzheimer’s affects every aspect of the patient’s life, changing the way they think, feel and act. While scientists haven’t been able to identify its exact causes, they do have a fair idea of their most common symptoms and risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease. An active, healthy lifestyle and good eating habits can reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s now take a look at the six major Alzheimer’s risk factors that have been identified to date.
- Age: Advancing age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease but it is not a direct cause. The majority of patients suffering from this disease are either 65 or older. Initial symptoms can often be mistaken as a result of the process of aging as it impairs the body’s self-repair mechanisms, a complete examination of the brain cells would be required for a clear diagnosis.
- Genetics and family history: Rare cases of familial Alzheimer’s disease have been identified in which it is caused due to alterations in specific genes passed on to the child by a parent. So far scientists have discovered three risk genes that cause familial Alzheimer’s: PS1, PS2 and APP genes.
- Gender: Some scientists believe that women are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as compared to men. But evidence supporting this claim is insufficient and deeper research in the field is required to determine the role of gender as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Smoking: Studies have revealed that people who smoke are at a 45% higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s as compared to non-smokers. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of several other diseases such as cancer, diabetes and vascular dementia. A person can substantially reduce the risk of incurring Alzheimer’s by not smoking.
- Obesity: Obesity and lack of physical exercise, especially in mid-life, are common risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. An active lifestyle and a well-balanced diet help in maintaining not just one’s physical health but also mental health.
- Heart Problems: As the human heart is responsible for providing nourishment to the brain through blood, any condition that damages the heart and blood vessels can, in turn, increase the risk of causing Alzheimer’s disease. It is best to monitor one’s heart health regularly and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s through exercise.
While the first three risk factors are non-modifiable, the other three can be regulated. Being physically active is the first step towards improving one’s brain health. Regular medical check-ups, healthy food choices and stress-free life can greatly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in an individual.