Dec 6, 2015

Dementia, Alzheimers and Stroke Survivors: Is There a Connection?

I always wondered, if Ronald Reagen, the 40th President of the United States, could get Alzheimers, with a plethora of decisions and strategies he had to accomplish, then anyone could get Alzheimers. When he died on June 5, 2004, at 93-years-old, it was pneumonia that killed him, a complication of Alzheimers. He wrote in a public statement early on in the disease in 1994, "Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden." And indeed it does. My mom had Alzheimers.

Age is known as the most significant factor for dementia, the early stage of potential Alzheimers. Though it is uncommon to get dementia before 65, it happens. After 65, the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease doubles about every five years: 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 and 1 in 6 over the age of 80. The risk factors include increasingly higher blood pressure, changes in the immune system, and an increased incidence of some diseases including stroke.
But what is the reason, I ask. As it turns out, there are multiple reasons.

1. Folks who experience depression are more likely to develop dementia. STROKE SURVIVORS EXPERIENCE DEPRESSION.

2. People who have had severe head injuries are at increased risk of developing dementia. STROKE SURVIVORS ARE CONSIDERED BRAIN INJURED.

3. Diet can affect people's risk of developing many kinds of illnesses, including dementia. Too much saturated fat (read the labels) can cause narrowing of the arteries, making stroke more likely. STROKE SURVIVORS OFTEN ATE TOO MUCH SATURATED FAT.

4. Exercise helps to protect against many conditions, including dementia. Regular physical exercise helps to keep the heart and vascular system healthy. STROKE SURVIVORS WERE OFTEN COUCH POTATOES.

5. Smoking has a disastrous effect on the heart, lungs and vascular system, including the blood vessels in the brain. STROKE SURVIVORS OFTEN WERE FORMER SMOKERS.

6. Drinking alcohol in excess increases the risk of developing dementia and ultimately Alzheimer's. However, research suggests that light amounts may protect the brain against dementia and keep the heart and vascular system healthy.

(There is little research that "brain games" such a crossword puzzles lighten the risk of getting a stroke or of developing dimentia. Remember Reagen? He had to do a lot of thinking when he was President, like ending the Cold War).

And then there are the rest of us, who don't why the stroke occurred at all. I'll take a guess that what caused my stroke all began with an antibiotic. But I don't really know.

So the takeaway is this, to avoid a stroke or any other complication such as dementia or Alzheimers:

Do you know anyone who suffers from depression? Suggest a therapist.

Do you know anyone who is involved in activities that could cause head injuries? Get another activity.

Do you know anyone who eats junk food? Tell them the risks.

Do you know anyone who doesn't exercise? Urge them to get off their butts.

Do you know anyone who smokes? Advise them there are medications to stop.

Do you know anyone who is a heavy drinker? Encourage them to lighten the load.

I know, I know. Easier said than done. And they may still get a stroke or dementia or Alzheimers. But there's no harm in trying. Strokes suck. But so do the other two.