Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating condition in which a person gradually loses their memory and ability to think, speak, and carry out everyday tasks. This disease most commonly affects the elderly, although rarely early-onset Alzheimer’s can affect individuals aged 30 to 60. This condition results in a buildup of amyloid plaques (clumps) and tau (tangled fibers) in the brain. The cause is unknown, but inflammation, decreased blood supply to the brain, and decreased glucose levels may play a part in addition to the buildup of plaque and tau. There are several conditions that may possibly increase your risk of Alzheimer’s or worsen the symptoms of the disease.
13. Heart Disease or Stroke
A decreased blood supply to the brain can contribute to symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Therefore, conditions that interfere with blood supply can be risk factors for this condition. Medical conditions that affect the heart’s ability to pump an adequate supply of oxygen-rich blood to other parts of the body will affect the brain. The Alzheimer’s Association lists the heart-head connection as a tie between heart and blood supply problems that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. High blood pressure, stroke, and cardiac disease all damage the heart muscle or blood vessels.
12. High Cholesterol
High cholesterol can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. This may be related to the effects on the blood supply to the brain when blood vessels become filled with fatty deposits. Since high cholesterol often occurs along with heart disease or diabetes, the combination of these conditions may place an individual at greater risk. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, more research is needed to determine whether cholesterol levels in the brain directly contribute to the development of the amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s.
11. Head Injuries
A bump on the head may not increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, severe head injuries or those sustained by individuals over the age of 55 may contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s. Frequent or repetitive less traumatic injuries may also affect your brain’s health over time. Take care to protect your head and brain by wearing a helmet when participating in activities such as biking, rollerblading, or skiing. As you get older, take care to avoid tripping or falling by using handrails on stairs, removing throw rugs from your floors, and avoiding icy sidewalks.
One complication of diabetes is damage to the blood vessels. This can result in decreased blood supply to the brain. Insulin resistance itself may also be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s may be linked to diabetes when the brain is unable to properly use glucose and react to insulin in diabetic patients. If you have diabetes, you can decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by committing to keeping your diabetes under control. Visit your physician regularly, consume a healthy diet, and get plenty of exercise. If your doctor has prescribed medications for you, be sure to use them as directed.
9. Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a central nervous system disorder in which individuals suffer from tremors, movement difficulties, muscle rigidity, and speech impairment. As the disease progresses, they may go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease as well. Medications to increase dopamine levels in the brain may help with the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, according to Alzheimer’s Community Care, they do not decrease the mental decline that can accompany this condition.
8. Down Syndrome
Individuals with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21. Chromosomes carry the genetic material that makes each human being unique. Studies indicate that this extra chromosome may also lead to increased production of the amyloid-beta plaques found in Alzheimer’s. It is unknown, however, why some individuals with Down syndrome go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease while others do not.
Depression is a hallmark of individuals who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, as they suffer from memory and cognitive difficulties. However, it may be that depression can also be a forerunner of Alzheimer’s, not just a symptom. It is possible that increased levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, can affect the brain and result in the risk of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Other theories as to the link between depression and Alzheimer’s include depression’s effects on glucose levels, inflammation, blood vessels, or nerve growth factors in the brain.
6. Sleep Disorders
Proper rest contributes to brain health, and those with sleep disorders may be at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A study in Neurology suggests that lack of sleep may trigger the formation of the amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s. One theory for this link may be that the brain utilizes sleep time for purging the brain of plaque buildup. If sleep is disturbed, the brain’s ability to clear this buildup is compromised. To protect your health and your mind, aim to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Engage in calming activities before bedtime and avoid alcohol and caffeine in the hours before sleep.
Obesity is a contributing factor to the development of conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Therefore, it stands to reason that obesity may be a contributing factor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Making lifestyle changes to achieve a healthy weight can result in both a healthier body and a healthier mind. A healthful diet consisting of green vegetables, lean proteins, fiber, and healthy fats nourishes the body and provides needed fuel for daily activities. Fresh air and exercise keep the heart pumping and stimulate the brain.
4. Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1)
The herpes virus is one of several infections that may be linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. While HSV-1, the virus that causes cold sores, may not be the cause of Alzheimer’s, it may be a symptom that the disease is present. A gene known as ApoE4 is linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with this gene may also develop herpes infections in their brains, and these infections may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, frequent herpes infections may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease due to the effects of inflammation on brain tissue.
Bacterial pneumonia is an infection that affects the respiratory system. The bacteria Chlamydophila pneumoniae may also affect the brain cells of certain patients, resulting in Alzheimer’s disease. There is conflicting evidence as to whether C. pneumoniae directly causes Alzheimer’s. However, taking care to avoid infection through frequent hand washing, avoiding sick people, and getting a yearly flu vaccine may help lower your risk.
2. Spirochete Infections
Spirochete bacteria cause different types of infections, including Lyme disease, gum disease, and syphilis. The spirochete bacteria can infect the brain as well as other body organs. Taking care to avoid these infections can protect your brain. Use safe sex practices in order to protect against venereal diseases and syphilis. Apply insect repellent and inspect your body for ticks when hiking in order to prevent Lyme disease. Good dental hygiene, including daily flossing, brushing your teeth twice each day, and visiting your dentist regularly can ward off gum disease.
1. Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is important for bone growth and development. While the role of vitamin D in brain development is unclear, there does appear to be a link between very low levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines. To increase your intake of vitamin D, you can also seek out orange juice or cereals that have been fortified with this vitamin. The sun is a great natural source of vitamin D. Ten to thirty minutes of exposure to midday sunlight several times each week can increase your body’s levels of vitamin D.