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Understanding Alzheimer’s

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder caused when nerve cells in the brain die, resulting in problems with memory, thinking and behavior. It is not a normal part of aging. Knowing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, as well as what you can do to help prevent it, can help you watch out for yourself and your loved ones.

understanding AlzheimersWhat is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

When discussing Alzheimer’s, dementia can be mentioned, but dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing. Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in mental abilities like reasoning, memory and thinking skills. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease that causes dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, making up 60-80% of dementia cases.

Symptoms and stages of Alzheimer’s

Problems with memory are usually the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s. Other symptoms can include:

  • Trouble with speech or more problems coming up with words than other people who are the same age
  • Issues with vision and spatial awareness
  • Impaired reasoning or judgement
  • Wandering and getting lost
  • Repeating questions
  • Mood and personality changes

There are three different stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Early-stage Alzheimer’s, where signs of memory loss and mental difficulties start
  • Middle-stage Alzheimer's, when there is damage to the parts of the brain that control language, reasoning and conscious thought
  • Late-stage Alzheimer’s, where a person cannot speak and has very limited movement

Risk factors for Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is likely caused by multiple factors. Some factors that may increase the risk of Alzheimer's include:

  • Age
  • Family history of Alzheimer’s
  • Head injuries
  • Heart conditions
  • Unhealthy lifestyle while aging

Tips to help prevent Alzheimer’s

There is no definitive way to prevent Alzheimer's, but research shows that there are some actions you can take that can help reduce your risk. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends these tips to help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s.

Exercise regularly

Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week (30 minutes a day, five days a week).

Keep your mind active

Do things that exercise your brain, such as reading, writing or learning a new hobby or skill.

Eat a healthy diet

Eat well-balanced meals with low-fat proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Limit foods with saturated fat and excess sugar and salt.

Social interaction

Keep close relationships with friends and family for a strong social network. Loneliness and isolation are linked to higher risks of Alzheimer’s.

Monitor blood sugar

Keep your blood sugar at a healthy level by exercising, eating healthy and not smoking. Higher than normal blood sugar levels can lead to many health problems, including Alzheimer’s.

Get quality sleep

Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night to help your mind and body recover.

Talk to your doctor

If you notice you have any of these symptoms, schedule a visit with your doctor about your concerns and to see if you need to seek treatment. There are a few treatment options that can help slow disease progression and symptoms.

Don’t have a doctor?

If you don’t have a doctor, you can find one by using the Blue Cross of Idaho member app or by visiting Log in to the app or your member account and select Find Care. You can search for doctors by specialty, location and more.

Download the Blue Cross of Idaho member app in the App Store or Google Play.

Posted: June 7, 2023