Alzheimer’s disease is one of the leading causes on death in the United States. Statistics show that someone develops the disease every 72 seconds. Today, there are over 5 million people in America with Alzheimer’s disease, 4.9 million of who are over the age of 65. Moreover, between 200,000 and 500,000 people under the age of 65 suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The projected growth of Alzheimer’s is grim. Without a cure or effective treatments to slow down the onset or progression of the disease, the prevalence rate could increase to 7.7 million people by the year 2030. By the mid-century, it is expected that the number of people with Alzheimer’s will soar to as many as 16 million.
Studies have shown that between the year 2000 and 2004, deaths by Alzheimer’s disease increased by 33% while deaths by other primary health issues in the United States decreased. Deaths due to heart disease declined by 8%, breast cancer declined by 2.6%, prostate cancer declined by 6.3%, and stroke declined by 10.4%.
One of the primary risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease is age. As a person grows older, his or her risk of Alzheimer’s increases. Other primary risk factors include:
- Family history (such as having a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s)
- Genetic markers (such as APOE, Trisomy 21, and Presenilin mutations)
- Cardiovascular risk factors (such as hypertension and lipidemia).
Secondary risk factors for the disease include head trauma, low level of education, and depression.
Commonly used screening tools that could recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s disease include the Folstein Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MOCA). The MMSE is designed to identify dementia. The MOCA is the current gold standard that is used to detect early signs of mild cognitive impairment, which can indicate future onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Physical exercise is the only non-medication intervention that has been shown to be beneficial to the brain in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s. Exercise increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Specifically, aerobic exercise improves executive functioning in the frontal and pre-frontal cortexes. Exercise also helps to control Alzheimer’s disease risk factors such as blood pressure and glucose levels. It is also beneficial in improving stress and decreasing depressive mood.
Longitudinal studies have shown that engagement in activities that are cognitively stimulating is associated with less dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Stimulating activities beneficial to the brain include playing board games, card games, and musical instruments. Reading and solving puzzles are also considered brain-stimulating activities.
Older adults in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are especially vulnerable to cognitive decline. Many senior residents may already be suffering from cognitive impairment and dementia. It is crucial that long-term care facility staff provides high quality of care to their patients and encourage them to engage in activities that enhance cognitive stimulation to prevent further cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease is a highly debilitating illness that greatly diminished an older adult’s quality of life. Care facilities must ensure that their staff is well-equipped to adequately meet their patients’ needs.