Alzheimer’s Dementia is rising as a leading killer worldwide and it is unique in that very little can be done in our traditional medical communities to slow it down or reverse it. But early symptoms of Alzheimer’s can manifest in so many different ways not just memory loss. Here is some of the key information on early Alzheimer’s that you can apply to yourself.
First of all…take a few deep breaths…grab a cup of coffee (or tea if you are genetically sensitive to caffeine!)…because what follows is the beginning of a conversation we are going to have about Alzheimer’s Dementia, brain health, aging, consciousness, and longevity. Right now, you probably think Alzheimer’s, or any other form of dementia is worse than a death sentence. It’s like a slow, horrible death – and I get that. I do. I have spent a good portion of my professional career with people at every phase of this disease.
However, you probably have not heard the whole story. This community will teach you ways you can assess you or your loved one’s risk for Alzheimer’s/memory loss and practical steps that you can take to lower that risk; and most excitingly, there exists the potential to halt this neurodegenerative process in its tracks. We’ll cover some groundbreaking science that will blow your mind – but hopefully not literally because that would sort of defeat the point!
THE CUT AND DRIED MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE
From a medical point of view figuring out why you may be having trouble focusing, experiencing brain fog or memory loss can be tricky. There are hundreds of possible reasons and solutions. Some problems are easily correctable, such as fixing sleep schedules and alleviating stress. Other triggers are a bit more challenging to identify. Is your diet right for you? Are you in an “inflammatory state”? Is delving into your unique genetics/biochemical individuality important? Is there a way to understand how those genes interact with the world around you (known as “the exposome and epigenetics)? The short answer is that many of these tools are developed or in the pipeline on the way to primetime development but a great deal of work still lies ahead.
To aid in unraveling the Alzheimer’s mystery, the National Institutes of Health convened a major working group on Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011. One of the big takeaways from these meetings was that Alzheimer’s – memory/attention/focusing problems – starts 10-30 years before real symptoms begin. Your unexplained sleep issue, difficulty losing weight, midlife high cholesterol or high blood pressure that might be signaling the beginning of the dementia process 20-30 years before any real memory loss is noticed!
This picture, originally created by the National Institutes of Health, shows you what I mean by “brain changes” occuring far before actual symptoms like memory impairment and confusion start. The yellow line is the “normal” pattern of memory from birth until death. This trajectory is not true for everyone, but is true for a lot of us. The blue line shows “Amnestic MCI.” MCI stands for “Mild Cognitive Impairment.” Amnestic means memory. Amnestic-MCI is essentially memory loss where people ask the same questions repeatedly, repeat conversations, forget how they know other people, or THAT they know people, or simply have trouble paying attention, reading or focusing. The red line shows AD (Alzheimer’s Disease) trajectory and shows you that brain function declines steeply after the diagnosis is made. But wait, read on there is hope!
There are things we know are associated with developing Alzheimer’s Dementia and the list is not exactly what you might think. Here are several of the big ones, but not even close to the whole list (I will share more about those in future articles):
- if you have high blood pressure or diabetes in middle age (40-50s)
- if you were overweight in the past (especially during middle age) OR are presently overweight
- if you smoked at any point in your life
- if you have suffered from depression
- if you had certain types of surgeries (for example ovaries removed early)
- if you did not go to college (and/or did not continue to educate yourself independently)
- if you have long standing issues with stress.
- if you develop “ADHD like” symptoms (can’t read or concentrate like you used to)
- if you have issues performing your job efficiently or like you once did at work
- if you have issues performing in your bedroom (ie erectile dysfunction or abnormal hormone levels)
- if you have less than optimal diet.
- if you are not regularly physically active (would mean less than 3-4 times per week).
- if you have evidence of inflammation (usually detected in labs)
So, obviously when you read this list you realize just how many of us are at risk and need to pay attention.
So, if you or a loved one thinks something might be wrong, or you feel you are at a higher risk why wait!? Waiting until a chronic degenerative condition like Alzheimer’s – or heart disease or diabetes – gets so bad that you need medication is a huge mistake. Because by the time people need medication there has often, but not always, been irreparable damage to your body/brain. And in the case of Alzheimer’s we don’t have ANY medications that change the disease.
That, however, does not mean that nothing works.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN THINGS GET BAD – AN ANALOGY
Here is in analogy on why it’s a bad idea to ignore little hints until things get bad. Think about a leaky roof. You have noticed stuff, but weren’t willing to acknowledge the issues for years. You have heard noises, seen paint colors changing, smelled something “not right” in your house – possibly for years. But then one spring after a winter’s worth of snow when things start to melt you notice a not so little leak in one of the cracks near the ceiling. You call your handyman and he looks worried. Now you’re worried! He tells you that you are going to need a “professional.” The professional gets there and starts tearing back drywall and sees deep seeded rot, black mold, and all kinds of other “good stuff.” He tells you it’s probably been festering for years. Grrrr you think to yourself, why did I ignore that for so long. He tells you to check into a hotel for a few weeks and talk to your insurance company because your house is going to take a whole lot a fixin’ (for a whole lot of money).
Sadly, when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or similar “neurodegenerative” dementia (Lewey-Body Dementia, Fronto-temporal, Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s associated dementia) it is not as simple as calling the insurance company and getting the roof, walls, and insulation repaired. Currently we tell folks that are newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to get their affairs in order, get a lawyer, and essentially expect to die a slow and unpleasant death (maybe over 8 to 10+ years). Oh my!
OUR MISSION AT EVOLVING PAST ALZHEIMER’S
We are here to change that mindset and to tell you that you can probably change the trajectory of your brain’s health particularly in the setting of early Alzheimer’s stages or Mild Cognitive Impairment by applying the tools of Functional Medicine and systems biology. Our podcast guests and blogposts are dedicated to bringing you this information.
If you or someone you care about are having unwanted, disturbing problems with your brain like the ones mentioned above please read the next post to help you figure out your risk for developing Alzheimer’s….and the TOP Five evidence informed things you can do to help yourself. Even if you are healthy, these recommendations will likely help to PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S DEMENTIA.
Disclaimer: this article is for general information purposes only. It is not medical advice nor does it in any way substitute for an evaluation by a licensed healthcare professional.