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Decrease the High Risk of Dementia with These Simple Steps

Alzheimer's Disease, dementia, stress, stress management, aging

A new report finds that one in three seniors will have dementia at the end of his lifetime, a staggering 39% increase that makes the condition the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. There is currently no effective cure for the disease, so taking steps early in life to prevent factors that contribute to dementia is crucial.

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80% of cases. Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start slowly and gradually get worse. Early diagnosis will allow a person to get the maximum benefit from available treatments and provides time for the family to plan for the future.

New statistics released by the Alzheimer’s Association reveals that more than 5 million Americans are currently living with the disease and one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Keep in mind that even when dementia isn’t the direct cause of death, it can be a significant factor by interfering with care (forgetting medications, inability to express symptoms of ailments) or leading to complications such as respiratory failure or malnutrition.

Alzheimer’s and other dementias do not only affect the patient. In 2012, 15.4 million family and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care – care valued at $216.4 billion. More than 60% of caregivers rate their personal emotional stress as high or very high. A new study finds that chronic stress is a significant factor in that person ultimately developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Sara Bengtsson, a PhD student at Umea University in Sweden conducted a study on mice that found that psychological stress in middle age could later cause dementia. Dr. Bengtsson found that mice which were highly stressed did not remember as well as less-stressed animals. Stress steroids can inhibit general brain activity. One of these is known as allopregnanolone. Chronically elevated levels of allopregnanolone accelerated the Alzheimer’s disease development in Dr. Bengtsson’s models.

The stressed mice also had larger amounts of beta-amyloids in their brains, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. High levels of beta-amyloids are known to lead to malfunction of brain synapses, resulting in memory problems and other symptoms.

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Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, said, “If we can better understand the risk factors for Alzheimer's we can also empower people to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk."

Per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the best ways to manage stress in hard times is through self-care. Even better news – most of these tips are also associated with a reduction in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Avoid drugs and alcohol. They may seem to be a temporary fix to feel better, but in the long run they can create more problems and add to your stress—instead of take it away.

Find support. Seek help from a partner, family member, friend, counselor, doctor, or clergyperson. Having a sympathetic, listening ear and sharing about your problems and stress really can lighten the burden. Keep in mind that depression has been shown to increase functional decline, so finding support to prevent symptoms is essential to your own well-being.

Connect socially. After a stressful event, it is easy isolate yourself. Make sure that you are spending time with loved ones. Consider planning fun activities with your partner, children, or friends.

Take care of yourself.
Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. One diet consistently linked with a reduction in disease is the Mediterranean diet.
Exercise regularly. In a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, being fit in middle age may help stave off dementia later in life.
Get plenty of sleep
Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out—for example, treat yourself to a therapeutic massage
Maintain a normal routine

Stay active. You can take your mind off your problems by giving—
helping a neighbor, volunteering in the community, even taking the dog on a long walk. These can be positive ways to channel your feelings.

Umea University - How Chronic Stress Accelerates Alzheimers Disease
Alzheimer's Association - Disease Facts and Figures
Center for Disease Control and Prevention - Handling Stress