To date, Alzheimer’s disease affects more than five million Americans. Fast forward to 2050, and researchers project this number could be as high as 16 million! And not to mention, one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s disease or another form dementia, even taking the lives of more than breast and prostate cancer sufferers combined. With such astronomical numbers derailing health on an individual, populace, and economical level, can the debilitating and fatal condition be prevented?
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a general term to describe compromised brain function, including memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is chronic, progressive, and irreversible, with dementia symptoms worsening overtime. While the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not well-known, researchers do recognize and agree age is the most significant risk factor, while family history, genetics, and lifestyle factors may also influence its onset. Researchers are also still in search for a cure, especially as Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. But in addition to curing the disease itself, researchers are putting their best foot forward to establish realistic and effective preventative measures people can take to lessen the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
But Is Alzheimer’s Preventable?
Compelling and optimistic research published in 2014 proposed one in three cases of Alzheimer’s cases were preventable. Conducted by the University of Cambridge, England, researchers analyzed the seven top risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, which included lack of exercise, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), depression, smoking, and low education. The researchers then identified low education, smoking, and physical inactivity as the top three risk factors worldwide, further estimating that by reducing such risks by just 10 percent, nearly nine million cases of dementia could be prevented in 2050 by 8.5 percent. Supplementary and current research published in the Lancet International Commission on Dementia Prevention concluded about 35 percent cases of dementia are attributable to nine modifiable risk factors, including education level, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, hearing loss, diabetes, physical inactivity, depression, and low social contact during early, mid, and later life stages.
While such findings were exciting and compelling, fast forward to more current data and the evidence is conflicting and opposing. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in December of 2017, researchers analyzed a comprehensive set of papers and agree there is no proven intervention for preventing late-life dementia. The researchers further went on to propose the disparity is based on data interpretation, as the previous evidence was based on observational studies and disregarded the golden standard in the world of research, or randomized controlled trials. The present study did a systematic review of randomized clinical trials that looked at four types of interventions, including prescription medications, physical activity, cognitive training, and over-the-counter (OTC) supplements. Nonetheless, none of the interventions offered sufficient evidence to support recommendations or any promise in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Take Away Messages
Despite the conflicting findings, there is still more to be known regarding the cause and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. That being said, we still must make our greatest efforts to better comprehend the disease, especially until more specific and solidified data is recognized and proven. One of the most valuable and encouraged ways to gain an understanding of Alzheimer’s disease is by raising awareness of the condition, along with supporting funds and data collection by researchers and participating in prevention studies. Interested individuals are encouraged to utilize TrialMatch®, the Alzheimer’s Association’s free trial matching service for research participation.
Ultimately, though, the evidence is not intended to be discouraging in any sort of way, as we must not discount the importance of still pursuing precautionary measures researched in the realm of Alzheimer’s disease and health in general. While following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and implementing other lifestyle factors may not prevent Alzheimer’s as once believed, making healthy choices can lower the risk of other chronic disease and improve quality of life, even in the presence of dementia and cognitive decline. All-in-all, embracing a healthy lifestyle can encourage a healthier life as age advances.