Can Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease be Predicted and Prevented?

With an aging population comes increasing fear of a disease that may be more frightening to many people than cancer or heart disease. Both of those diseases—formerly death-sentences if diagnosed—are showing improving survival rates due to breakthroughs in research and improved diagnosis and treatment methods.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the scourge of the elderly and near-elderly. Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia can sometimes reduce high-functioning adults to little more than large-sized two-year-olds, robbing them of language, problem-solving abilities, reasoning, memory, and other cognitive functions.

The threat of losing dignity, independence, and self-sufficiency of basic human needs is a great fear for those approaching their elder years. Some rationalize that those with severe dementia may lack the sufficient mental acuity to realize the full extent of their illness, preventing some victims from recognizing that they even have dementia.

Is Dementia Inevitable?

According to Alzheimer’s Disease Statistics, an estimated 5.7 million people in the United States have dementia, with twenty-five percent of those suffering severe dementia. Though common in older people, dementia is not thought to be a normal result of aging, as many in their 90’s and above are symptom-free. However, the causes of dementia are not known at this time.

Everyone has moments of forgetfulness or so-called ‘senior moments,’ such as the inability to find the right words, difficulty remembering names, forgetting where things were placed, and the classic frustration felt when you’ve gone purposefully into a room only to realize the purpose has been forgotten. These normal moments of forgetfulness can trigger fear that dementia is approaching.

Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Prevented?

Alzheimer’s Disease is one form of dementia, a general term for diminished mental capabilities. There are many classifications of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s is characterized by clumps of protein called plaques and tangled fibers inside the nerve cells of the brain. Other forms of dementia affect the brain differently. Dementia cannot be cured; however, there is growing evidence that steps can be taken to delay or prevent the onset of dementia.

A comprehensive dementia report on WebMD describes some of the factors apparently offering some protection or delay against the onset of dementia. These include maintaining tight control of glucose levels and engaging in intellectually stimulating activities or mind exercices. Scientists hypothesize that intellectual activity increases the brain’s ability to compensate for the physical changes associated with dementia.

Other factors being studied with potential impact of preventing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia include lowering blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, increasing exercise, and obtaining higher education.

Diagnosing Dementia – A Dementia Test

After eliminating diseases and physical injuries that can cause dementia-like symptoms, doctors arrive at a dementia diagnosis if two or more brain functions are significantly impaired. Impaired brain functions might include memory loss, loss of language skills, impaired perception, dramatic personality changes, and impaired problem-solving, reasoning, and judgment.

Normal memory loss can be frightening, as one may fear the onset of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. There may now be an easy means of calming one’s fears or helping to confirm the worst. Scientists at The Ohio State University Medical College have developed a self-administered dementia test called SAGE, which they claim can identify mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and early dementia. The test, which is available for free download, takes about fifteen minutes and includes self-scoring instructions.

Protection Against Dementia

Though Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia are widely feared due to the impacts they have on mental functioning and maintaining self-sufficiency, there is promise that the onset of dementia can be prevented or delayed by exercising the mind, physical exercise, and making other healthy lifestyle choices. The SAGE dementia test may ease the minds of those concerned that dementia is beginning.