Donna Knight: How to lessen your risk
I have a lot on my mind lately.
My husband, Randy, and I have been caring for my mother, Wilma, who has had Alzheimer’s since 2010. Alzheimer’s runs in Mom’s family. Her father had it. Her sister had it. Her brother had it. Now Mom has it.
I wonder constantly if whatever causes Alzheimer’s is already working inside of me. What can I do to prevent it? Or is it preventable? Research is being done, and more is learned about the disease every day. But much of what causes Alzheimer’s remains a mystery.
The facts that are known about Alzheimer’s right now are that women develop a memory disorder at a rate double that of breast cancer, placing them in a higher-risk category for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Heart and brain health are closely related. Individuals with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or a history of stroke are at a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Also, the risk of Alzheimer’s significantly increases if there is a history of it in the family. Age is also a factor. Beginning at age 65, the probability of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. At age 65, nearly one in 10 people will have Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Pretty daunting odds for someone like me, a woman with a family history of the disease and getting painfully close to that 65 mark.
But, there are things I can do every day to increase my chances of delaying the onset or maybe prevent the disease altogether.
The first defense against Alzheimer’s is to stay physically, socially and mentally active. That is why I continue to work, and retirement has no attraction for me. I want to work my brain as hard as I can for as long as I can. I write, I garden, I do mentally challenging things every day both at work and at home.
I take painting lessons. I cantor at my church. I work in my flower and vegetable gardens and do many home improvement projects. This summer, with the help of our grandchildren Isaac, Sam and Paige, we will be installing a garden pond with fish at our home as another way of keeping physically active and engaged.
Also very important in the fight against Alzheimer’s is a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Randy recently got me a three-layer chef steamer, and we have changed our diets to mostly steamed fish, rice or quinoa and vegetables with a lot of salads every week in an effort to eat healthier.
Both of us also try to safeguard our health by taking a number of vitamins and supplements recommended by the Alzheimer’s Association, especially those that target memory loss and brain health.
Some studies suggest that Alzheimer’s is directly related to high cholesterol, vitamin D deficiency, loss of smell, drinking and smoking. There is also thought to be a correlation between diabetes, blood sugars, insulin levels and Alzheimer’s.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are prescribed at this time. These drugs may help delay or prevent symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time and may help control some behavioral symptoms. But there is no cure.
Is Alzheimer’s preventable? Probably not at this time. But every day that I am able to delay the onset is truly a gift that I will never take for granted.
Donna Knight is a columnist for The Houma (La.) Courier and The Thibodaux (La.) Daily Comet.