Because Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, coping with it requires foresight and careful advance planning.
Do you find yourself struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word, becoming confused in new places, or botching tasks that once came easily? Have you noticed memory problems piling up in ways that affect daily life in yourself or someone you love? Everyone has these experiences sometimes, but if they frequently happen to you or someone you love, they may be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Harvard University has produced a Special Health Report that includes in-depth information on diagnosing Alzheimer’s and treating its symptoms. Because caring for someone with Alzheimer’s continues to be one of the toughest jobs in the world, the report includes help for family members and caregivers, as well as for the individuals with Alzheimer’s.
About 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and estimates suggest it will affect 7.7 million by 2030. Already, it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. There is no cure, and available treatments alleviate symptoms temporarily at best. But with patience, knowledge, and support, you can better meet the challenges posed by this disease and improve the quality of your life and that of your loved ones.
The Harvard report discloses that while there are no surefire ways to prevent Alzheimer’s, by following the five steps below you may lower your risk for this disease — and enhance your overall health as well:
1. Maintain a healthy weight. Cut back on calories and increase physical activity if you need to shed some pounds.
2. Check your waistline. To accurately measure your waistline, use a tape measure around the narrowest portion of your waist (usually at the height of the navel and lowest rib). A National Institutes of Health panel recommends waist measurements of no more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.
3. Eat mindfully. Emphasize colorful, vitamin-packed vegetables and fruits; whole grains; fish, lean poultry, tofu, and beans and other legumes as protein sources; plus healthy fats. Cut down on unnecessary calories from sweets, sodas, refined grains like white bread or white rice, unhealthy fats, fried and fast foods, and mindless snacking. Keep a close eye on portion sizes, too.
4. Exercise regularly. This simple step does great things for your body. Regular physical activity helps control weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, biking, rowing), can also help chip away total body fat and abdominal fat over time. Aim for 2 1/2 to 5 hours weekly of brisk walking (at 4 mph). Or try a vigorous exercise like jogging (at 6 mph) for half that time.
5. Keep an eye on important health numbers. In addition to watching your weight and waistline, ask your doctor whether your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar are within healthy ranges. Exercise, weight loss if needed, and medications (if necessary) can help keep these numbers on target.
People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s often can be partners in that planning, and this comprehensive report can guide you, as well. You’ll find tips for coping with daily routines and challenges, getting financial and legal documents in order, investigating long-term care options, and determining what services are covered by health insurance and Medicare.
Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publications in collaboration with John H. Growdon, M.D., Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, and Director, Memory and Movement Disorders Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital. 48 pages. (2012)
SOURCE: Harvard Health Publications in collaboration with John H. Growdon, M.D., Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, and Director, Memory and Movement Disorders Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital.