“As a society, we’re getting older. Because Alzheimer’s disease increases with age, naturally, we will see an increase, ” said Dr. Jason Kanz, a Marshfield Clinic Health System neuropsychologist.
Alzheimer’s has no cure and while medications only slow down its progression for some people, others may see no improvements.
You can, however, take preventive measures to keep your mind sharp as you age.
Three tips to stay sharp
1. Regular exercise
“Generally, research shows an effective way of maintaining peak brain function is through regular physical activity,” Kanz said.
A sharp brain depends on operation of blood vessels. Exercise boosts blood flow through the body and the brain, which is essential for brain cells to operate effectively.
2. Cognitive activity
“Brain training” programs and apps have gained popularity in recent years, claiming to delay age-related memory loss and prevent against diseases like Alzheimer’s.
In January 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stated programs like Lumosity deceive customers, and there is not enough research to support these applications benefit memory.
Kanz said this report isn’t reason to decrease cognitive activity.
“Though there’s not enough research to prove such apps and games improve memory, there is evidence to suggest cognitive activity can be beneficial. Doing something out of the ordinary, getting your brain to think differently, can help keep your mind sharp.”
Play board games, learn a musical instrument or take up a new hobby.
3. Balanced nutrition
As with most illnesses, a well-balanced diet is a strong shield of prevention to Alzheimer’s.
“Good nutrition can go a long way,” he said. Here’s what a balanced diet with healthy portions looks like.
Screening for Alzheimer’s and memory loss
Doctors should ask about cognitive changes during Medicare wellness visits. Typically, this includes a mini mental status test, like asking a patient to name as many objects as they can think of.
Primary care doctors ask about history and symptoms as patients age, too.
“We use the AD8 to screen patients,” Kanz said. “If there is a change in two or more of these, it is associated with clinically significant impairment.”
The AD8, The Ascertain Dementia 8-item Informant Questionnaire, evaluates whether a person has:
- Problems with judgment (e.g., problems making decisions, bad financial decisions, problems with thinking)
- Less interest in hobbies/activities
- Repeats the same things over and over (questions, stories or statements)
- Trouble learning how to use a tool, appliance or gadget (e.g., VCR, computer, microwave, remote control
- Forgets correct month or year
- Trouble handling complicated financial affairs (e.g., balancing checkbook, income taxes, paying bills)
- Trouble remembering appointments
- Daily problems with thinking and/or memory
Doctors ask an informant or a patient to answer with “Yes, a change,” “No, no change” or “N/A, don’t know.”
Doctors begin asking these questions around ages 6o to 65. In this age range, nearly 1-2 percent of people show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. By age 85, this increases to 50 percent. Some early memory loss develops into Alzheimer’s while other symptoms do not.
It is age-related memory loss or Alzheimer’s?
Use this chart to distinguish the difference.
“Just pay attention to your memory,” he said. “As we age, our brains become less efficient. That’s normal. But significant changes should be identified as soon as possible and shared with a doctor.”
Alzheimer's vs Aging
Not all forgetfulness is age-related.
Here are 10 signs of Alzheimer's help identify an early diagnosis.
Signs of Alzheimer's
MEMORY LOSS1Forgetting recently learned information.
DIFFICULTY PROBLEM SOLVING2Challenging in planning like following a familiar recipe.
TROUBLE COMPLETING TASKS3Difficulty with tasks like driving to a familiar location.
CONFUSION4Forgetting where they are or how they got home.
SPATIAL RELATIONSHIP ISSUES5Thinking someone else is in the room when they pass a mirror.
PROBLEMS SPEAKING OR WRITING6Stopping mid-conversation with no idea how to continue.
MISPLACING ITEMS7Putting things in unusual places and accusing others of stealing.
POOR JUDGMENT8Giving large amounts of money to telemarketers.
WITHDRAW FROM ACTIVITIES9Trouble remembering how to complete a hobby.
CHANGE IN MOOD/PERSONALITY10Easily upset especially when they are out of their comfort zone.
Aging Memory Changes
FORGETFULNESSForgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
MAKING MISTAKESMaking occasional errors with common tasks like balancing a checkbook.
NEEDS REMINDERSOccasionally needs help with activities like using a microwave.
UNSURENESSGetting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
VISION CHANGESChanges related to cataracts that can affect daily activity.
STOPPING TO THINKSometimes having difficulty finding the right word.
TEMPORARILY LOSING ITEMSMisplacing items from time to time like a pair of glasses or the remote control.
MISJUDGMENTMaking a bad decision once in a while.
FEELING OVERWHELMEDSometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
EASILY IRRITATEDHas specific ways of doing things and becomes irritated when disrupted.