The news media was rabid with attention. It seemed that the once great football legend had fallen from grace, behaving in ways that were titillating and inexplicable. “Think he got sacked one too many times”, you joke to your family. Though his odd behavior was widely passed off as arrogance, you may have been onto something...
Alzheimer’s Disease, a form of dementia, is a progressive brain disease and is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. Sufferers live an average of eight years after symptoms become noticeable, but may live up to twenty years after symptoms manifest themselves. Incorrectly, Alzheimer’s is associated with old age and memory loss. Although the majority of people who develop the disease are over 65, less than 5% of people who develop Alzheimer’s are between the ages of 30 and 60.  Alzheimer’s is not a consequence of old age, rather its onset is due to a wide variety of factors. Like other chronic conditions, the reason people develop Alzheimer’s Disease is a complicated puzzle of genetics, environment, health issues, lifestyle and age.  
The cruel reality of Alzheimer’s Disease is that it robs the sufferer of their personality and ability to care for themselves. The burden of the disease tends to fall upon the caretaker, who is usually a close relative, such as a spouse or child. Tending to the Alzheimer’s patient can seriously impair the caregiver’s social, physical, and psychological functioning, not to mention put a heavy burden on them financially. In fact, in developed countries, Alzheimer’s is one of the most expensive diseases to treat. 
November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness and Caregivers Month. Because Alzheimer’s Disease has no known cure and can be particularly devastating to the caregiver, consider your loved ones and explore some ways to reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s if you suspect that you may be at risk.
At first, symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear to be related to aging, that is, confusion and forgetfulness. As the disease progresses, however, more devastating symptoms appear such as irritability, aggression, language difficulties and long-term memory loss. Eventually the person will withdraw from society and family. Ultimately they will suffer organ malfunction and - as opposed to simple old age problems - will die from the disease. 
Causes - who develops Alzheimer’s Disease?
The cause of Alzheimer’s Disease is quite elusive, however some contributing factors have been clearly identified. Unfortunately, there is a genetic element to Alzheimer’s, although just because someone is genetically predisposed to the disease doesn’t guarantee that they will develop it. In both early and late onset Alzheimer’s, there appears to be a problem with proteins which cause plaques and tangles in the brain.  Plaques are abnormal clusters of protein fragments between nerve cells in the brain and tangles are twisted strands of another protein in dying brain cells.
In early-onset Alzheimer’s, there are mutations of certain chromosomes that cause the formation of abnormal proteins. In late-onset Alzheimer’s, a gene involved in the breakdown of proteins is suspected to be a contributing factor, although no distinctive gene has been identified as the cause. Apolipoprotein E gene (ApoE4) instructs the creation of proteins that carry fat and cholesterol in the bloodstream. 25 to 30% of the population already carry the ApoE4 gene, and about 40% of people with late-onset Alzheimer's carry it. 
Additionally, there seems to be a strong link between illnesses that damage the heart or blood vessels and Alzheimer’s Disease, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and heart disease.   Although not a prerequisite to developing the disease, some autopsy studies have shown that 80 % of people with Alzheimers also had cardiovascular disease.  Although plaques and tangles found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s are characteristic, it appears that cardiovascular disease must additionally be present, not simply plaques and tangles alone. 
Another strong risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s is head trauma.   Those who engage in contact sports such as boxing or football, carry the ApoE4 gene and have suffered loss of consciousness are at greater risk of developing the disease. A history of depression, hyperthyroidism, low educational levels and lifetime work that does not involve complex thinking are further contributing factors that may put people at risk of Alzheimer’s. 
Alzheimer’s Disease may start developing as early as age 30, even though symptoms may not become visible for many years. The best way to fight Alzheimer’s Disease is to delay the onset for as long as possible. There is nothing you can do about genetics, but you can make different lifestyle choices starting now that will benefit you well into your future.
Studies have shown that a diet high in antioxidants, which are foods containing vitamins C and E, (read: fruits and vegetables), ginkgo biloba and folic acid is beneficial to the prevention of Alzheimer’s. In fact, people who ate a diet high in antioxidants (blueberries, garlic, spinach, etc.) before suffering a brain injury had less brain trauma than those who did not. 
The brain responds well to stimulation, whether it be intellectual or social, as the brain’s plasticity, (that is, the brain’s ability to change) functions until old age. Therefore, exercising the mind though social or intellectual activities such as chess or engaging in group art projects may also ward off the disease. 
Yet, controlling your cardiovascular health may be the best and most cost-efficient way to battle the onset of Alzheimer’s. Studies have shown that regular physical activity protects brain health in that it increases oxygen flow to the brain and has exceptional benefits to the cardiovascular system.  Anti-inflammatory medications, such as low doses of aspirin which is often prescribed for heart health, can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s up to 50%.
Ideally, a multicomponent approach to preventing the disease is the best measure. A program that involves brain stimulation, daily physical activity, an active social life and a healthy diet will not cure Alzheimer’s Disease, but will certainly reduce the chances of developing it or delay the onset. 
 [“What Is Alzheimer's? http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp#brain]
 [The Role of Anti-Inflammatory Drugs in the Prevention and Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease”, John C. S. Breitner, M.D., M.P.H. 1996 ]”
 [“Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Fact Sheet” http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet#.UngxMFWzKpg]
 [“Alzheimer’s Diesease” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alzheimer's_disease]
 [“Prevention and risk of Alzheimer’s” http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_prevention_and_risk.asp]
 [“Preventing Alzheimer's: Ways to Help Prevent, Delay, Detect, and Even Halt Alzheimer's Disease and Other Forms of Memory Loss”, by William Rodman Shankle, Daniel G. Amen. 2005]
 [“Alzheimer's disease” http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-disease/DS00161/DSECTION=prevention]
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.