Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is characterised by a progressive loss of cognitive functions including memory, language, judgment, praxis and orientation and is diagnosed on the basis of shrinking in the thickness of a part of the brain called the medial temporal lobe, which is considered to be the primary pathology that generates the associated symptoms . The detectable, preclinical phase of AD presents as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) . Episodic memory impairment is the most common initial symptom of MCI . Poor performance in verbal or visuospatial memory recall, processing speed, attention and executive function tasks requiring planning or judgement & semantic fluency are also common predictors of Alzheimer’s risk.
There are an estimated 46.8 million people worldwide living with dementia and the number has been predicted to double every 20 years, reaching 74.7 million in 2030 and 131.5 million in 2050 (Dementia statistics | Alzheimer’s Dis…). In the UK alone, 1 in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimer’s Society ), a form of dementia which accounts for about two thirds of all dementia cases.
However, most people don’t know that up to 50% of the risk of Alzheimer’s is attributable to modifiable diet and lifestyle related factors and with these figures looming over us, it is crucial that there is more awareness generated on taking a positive approach to preventing Dementia and the symptoms that come with it. Alzheimer’s isn’t something you suddenly get, like an infection, and it also isn’t the natural consequence of ageing nor is it genetic. Only 1% is caused by genes. It is a true disease which means we can identify the causes and prevent them.
Prevention is an area which is not spoken about enough, since 2008 less than 1% has been spent on prevention research. Funding has been largely focused on finding medication to treat Dementia rather than prevention, which has so far been fruitless. There is no drug cure for Alzheimer’s currently and because of this, many people feel that there is nothing they can do to help themselves or help their family members.
There are, however, many studies showing how key nutrients like B vitamins, following a balanced diet, avoiding certain foods which can impair brain function and adopting healthy lifestyle habits can do a lot to optimise the health of the brain, therefore preventing degeneration.
- Smith, A.D, ‘Imaging the progression of Alzheimer pathology through the brain’, PNAS, 99(7):4135-7 (2002)
- Smith, A.D, ‘Omega-3 Fatty Acid Status Enhances the Prevention of Cognitive Decline by B Vitamins in Mild Cognitive Impairment’, J Alzheimers Dis, 50(2):547-57, 2015
- (Morris JC. Mild cognitive impairment and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Geriatrics 2005; (Suppl): 9–14.; Winblad B, Palmer K, Kivipelto M et al. Mild cognitive impairment—beyond controversies, towards a consensus: report of the International Working Group on Mild Cognitive Impairment. J Intern Med 2004; 256: 240–6.)
- Peterson. Mild cognitive impairment: prevalence, prognosis, aetiology, and treatment. J Int Med 2004; 256: 183–94.)