Over time, this disease can seriously affect one’s ability to carry out daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014—and this number is projected to nearly triple by 2060. In fact, the total number of Californians ages 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is estimated to increase 29% by just 2025.
While scientists still don’t fully understand the causes of Alzheimer’s, there are several factors that seem to increase your risk of developing the disease:
- Age. Age is the greatest-known risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms typically appear in people over the age of 60, however, early-onset Alzheimer’s—which is much more rare—can develop in people as young as 30.
- Genetics. Both early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s have a genetic component, although it is much better understood in early-onset cases. Although a specific gene has not been proven to cause late-onset Alzheimer’s, there are a number of genes that are clearly linked to increased risk. Researchers believe that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s may be higher if a parent or sibling had the disease as well.
- Gender. Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women. While women seem to be more likely to develop the disease than men, this may be in part due to the fact that women typically live longer.
- Heart health. There is increasing evidence that certain risk factors for heart disease—such as high cholesterol and blood pressure—may also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
- Sleep. Recent research has shown that a lack of sleep can lead to an increase in beta-amyloid -- the protein in the brain that is linked to Alzheimer’s.
With the holidays approaching, you may have the chance to visit aging loved ones whom you haven’t seen in a while. Keep your eye out for the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, or other types of dementia:
- Changes in memory
- Lack of interest in usual activities
- Disorientation to time or place
- Personality and mood changes
- Difficulty performing typical tasks
If you or someone you know displays some of these warning signs, it does not necessarily mean that you or they have Alzheimer's disease. Minor changes in memory is a common part of getting older. However, if you notice these warning signs, don’t ignore them. Talk to a doctor right away if you or a loved one is experiencing memory loss or other behavioral changes.
This article first appeared in the November 2018 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.