Currently 5.7 million people in the US suffer from the debilitating cause of dementia and the CDC estimates close to 14 million will be affected by the year 2060.
As we’re surviving other illnesses that could take our lives sooner, such as heart disease and cancer, we as a population are living to an age where brain changes can occur.
Alzheimer’s is the 5th leading cause of death and scientists still struggle to find a cure or means to stave it off.
The average age of symptom revelation is 65, but researchers believe the disease may set in sooner. Over 200,000 currently suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s, or onset before age 65.
I believe nightly oxygen or CPAP therapy (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) might be worth researching as its been postulated that lack of oxygenation can accelerate dementia.
Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease in which the brain loses function, is most commonly associated with memory loss. As abnormal proteins build up in the brain (beta-amyloid and tau), the plaques and neurofibrillary tangles within the nerve cell (neuron), disrupt communication between nerve cells, so memory can easily start to falter. Many people affected with Alzheimer’s lose newer memories first and then progressively lose old ones.
However, since the brain is such a dynamic and brilliantly complex organ, a disease that alters its tissue could manifest in a variety of symptoms, beyond memory loss.
These can include:
Hence if a family member appears to lose his way driving home, has difficulty dressing himself appropriately, avoids family gatherings, appears to get angry for no apparent reason, or even offers a young baby an object for a much older individual, these may be signs of a dementia such as Alzheimer’s.
Although Caucasians comprise the majority of cases overall, the CDC found among those over 65, African-Americans have the highest rate at nearly 14%, and Hispanics at 12%.
In a recent study, researchers from Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center found four additional symptoms that may be early signs of Alzheimer’s. These include:
The study authors state these signs may be overlooked and could be very telling of one’s early disease progression.
To diagnose Alzheimer’s, the medical provider may employ a variety of testing measures including basic history and physical, blood tests to rule out thyroid and vitamin deficiencies, lumbar puncture, CT Scans to rule out bleeds, masses, or stroke, MRI Brain scans, neuropsychological tests, and amyloid PET scans.
Although currently a cure for Alzheimer’s does not exist, there are many medications being researched to slow down the progression of the disease and a variety of environmental and behavioral interventions could allow the patient to navigate easier with their challenges.
How to prevent Alzheimer’s remains up for debate, but healthy diet, weight, exercise, and control of one’s blood pressure and blood sugar have been suggested.
The earlier Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, the easier it may be to manage, hence family members need to learn and look out for the above symptoms.
Researchers have found a link between Alzheimer’s and the use of sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines and “Z-drugs.”
“Z-drugs” refer to non-benzodiazepines or hypnotics such as zolpidem (brand name Ambien).
The study from the University of Finland looked at 70,700 individuals who had developed Alzheimer’s during the years 2005-2011. The researchers found regular use of benzodiazepines and Z-drugs increased one’s risk of the neurodegenerative disorder by 6%. Moreover the higher the dose used, the higher the risk.
Benzodiazepines and sleeping pills are being prescribed and used in epidemic proportions leading to more addiction and tolerance to controlled substances, poor timing as we fight the opioid crisis.
Arizona State University researchers last year reported the use of use of sleeping pills is “worse than smoking” for one’s health.
Sleep researcher, Shawn Youngstedt, told CNN, “They are as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Not to mention they cause infections, falling and dementia in the elderly, and they lose their effectiveness after a few weeks.”
For years sleeping aids including antihistamines (ex. diphenhydramine), benzodiazepines (ex. lorazepam, alprazolam), non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic (ex. Ambien) have been studied and linked to side effects including
In 2012, a study of 10,500 people found those who used sleeping pills were 4X as likely to die in the 2.5-year study than those who didn’t use medications for sleep.
Dr. Kripke and his colleagues at Scripps also found a 35% increase risk of cancer, noting lymphoma, lung, colon and prostate cancer risk was worse than that of smoking.
Also in 2012, a study published in Thorax, found benzodiazepine use linked to the severe lung infection, pneumonia.
In 2014, a study from China Medical University in Taiwan found only four sleeping pills a year increased risk of heart attack by 20% and 60 tablets a year was linked to a 50% increase.
A separate study found an increased risk of aortic dissection with sleeping pill use.
Insomnia is a disorder where one has difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Many factors can cause insomnia. These include:
Treating insomnia can be complex. We begin by treating the underlying cause, such as any of those listed above. Then we can try the following:
Youngstedt also suggests exercise. He states its “healthier” than using sleeping aids and “research suggests those who are physically active have a lower risk of developing insomnia in the first place.”
Now it could be that those who suffer from certain medical conditions are more at risk of insomnia but more needs to be studied in terms of why these medications are linked to poor health outcomes.
Canadian neuroscientists suggest taking Ibuprofen daily may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.
IMAGE FROM ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION
Researchers from the University of British Columbia believe those who take daily ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID), can decrease inflammation of the brain caused by the abnormal proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.
In 2004, Dokmeci et al suggested ibuprofen could delay Alzheimer’s onset as it protects neurons (nerve cells) and decreases inflammation of the brain.
In this study, Dr. Patrick McGreer and his team believe they can identify those early on who could benefit from the inexpensive, over the counter treatment.
McGreer is President and CEO of Vancouver-based Aurin Biotech. He and his team developed a saliva test that measures the protein Abeta42 (amyloid beta protein 42). In patients at risk of Alzheimer’s, they found levels of Abeta42 to be two to three times higher than normal. Abeta42 accumulates in the brain, causing inflammation and destroying nerve cells. Though previously believed Abeta42 is made exclusively in the brain, the saliva test suggests Abeta42 is made elsewhere in the body and can be detected years earlier. If the protein/peptide is found earlier and known to cause inflammation, McGreer and his team believe preventing the inflammation with ibuprofen could essentially prevent Alzheimer’s onset.
He states, “What we’ve learned through our research is that people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s exhibit the same elevated Abeta42 levels as people who already have it; moreover, they exhibit those elevated levels throughout their lifetime so, theoretically, they could get tested anytime. Knowing that the prevalence of clinical Alzheimer’s Disease commences at age 65, we recommend that people get tested ten years before, at age 55, when the onset of Alzheimer’s would typically begin. If they exhibit elevated Abeta42 levels then, that is the time to begin taking daily ibuprofen to ward off the disease.”
Daily ibuprofen would not, however, be without its risks. Gastric upset, ulcers, kidney disease and heart disease could occur with excessive NSAID use. The authors suggest a “low dose” but did not specify an exact milligram quantity.
Advances in Alzheimer’s treatment have met multiple obstacles as the neurodegenerative disease is difficult to detect early and the few treatments we do have are not very effective at slowing and reversing pathology. If protein deposition in the brain can be prevented early, we could potentially save the millions of people destined to get the disease. Currently 5.5 million people in the US have Alzheimer’s, and 44 million people are affected worldwide.
For more on the study read here.