Can you sidestep Alzheimer’s disease?
A recent international survey identified Alzheimer’s as the second most feared disease, behind cancer. It’s no wonder.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by progressive damage to nerve cells and their connections. The result is devastating and includes memory loss, impaired thinking, difficulties with verbal communication, and even personality changes. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may live anywhere from two to 20 years after diagnosis. Those years are spent in an increasingly dependent state that exacts a staggering emotional, physical, and economic toll on families.
A number of factors influence the likelihood that you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these you can’t control, such as age, gender, and family history. But there are things you can do to help lower your risk. As it turns out, the mainstays of a healthy lifestyle — exercise, watching your weight, and eating right — appear to lower Alzheimer’s risk.
5 steps to lower Alzheimer’s risk
While there are no surefire ways to prevent Alzheimer’s, by following the five steps below you may lower your risk for this disease — and enhance your overall health as well.
|1.||Maintain a healthy weight. Cut back on calories and increase physical activity if you need to shed some pounds.|
|2.||Check your waistline. To accurately measure your waistline, use a tape measure around the narrowest portion of your waist (usually at the height of the navel and lowest rib). A National Institutes of Health panel recommends waist measurements of no more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.|
|3.||Eat mindfully. Emphasize colorful, vitamin-packed vegetables and fruits; whole grains; fish, lean poultry, tofu, and beans and other legumes as protein sources; plus healthy fats. Cut down on unnecessary calories from sweets, sodas, refined grains like white bread or white rice, unhealthy fats, fried and fast foods, and mindless snacking. Keep a close eye on portion sizes, too.|
|4.||Exercise regularly. This simple step does great things for your body. Regular physical activity helps control weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, biking, rowing), can also help chip away total body fat and abdominal fat over time. Aim for 2 1/2 to 5 hours weekly of brisk walking (at 4 mph). Or try a vigorous exercise like jogging (at 6 mph) for half that time.|
|5.||Keep an eye on important health numbers. In addition to watching your weight and waistline, ask your doctor whether your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar are within healthy ranges. Exercise, weight loss if needed, and medications (if necessary) can help keep these numbers on target.
Caregiving: Take away the keys?
Caring for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease presents a range of challenges. Spouses, family members, and friends must deal with feelings of loss as the person they know seems to slip away. Supporting a loved one with basic activities of daily living can be time consuming and exhausting. And it is difficult to balance protecting the person you’re caring for and preserving what independence remains.
One of the trickiest problems to negotiate is driving. The consequences of a misstep behind the wheel can be deadly.
Decisions about driving
Whether or not it is safe to drive can be complicated, particularly when the person is only mildly impaired. Some believe that driving privileges should not be taken away until a person is clearly an unsafe driver.
But can you identify an unsafe driver before an accident occurs?
Driving requires amazing coordination — the eyes, brain, and muscles must process information and respond to it quickly. Driving skills may seem sufficient until an unexpected situation occurs when a person with dementia can panic or freeze with indecision. A University of California study found that the driving skills of people with mild Alzheimer’s were significantly poorer than those of other elderly people, including those with some other forms of dementia.
One way to gauge the risk is to observe the person’s general behavior. If friends and family see their loved one exhibit poor judgment, inattentiveness to what’s going on around him or her, clumsiness, and slow or inappropriate reactions, then that person should not get behind the wheel.
Taking away the keys
Ideally, a tactful and respectful approach will preserve the person’s self-esteem while getting them off the road. Some people may agree to stop driving for other reasons — for instance, the car needs repair or the license or registration has expired. You can also opt for a road test with a driver’s rehabilitation specialist, who can offer an independent assessment of safety. People with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes take seriously a written prescription from a physician that says, “Do not drive.”
In some states, doctors have a legal duty to report unsafe drivers and drivers with certain medical problems to the state department of motor vehicles. If all else fails, you may need to seek advice from a lawyer or an official with the Department of Public Safety in your state. Procedures vary, but generally a driver’s license can be suspended on the basis of a physician’s written statement.
From Healthbeat – Harvard University Medical School.