Aging Parents With Alzheimer’s Disease: Reducing Your Own Risk

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Fear of getting Alzheimer’s disease or dementia has overtaken fear of developing cancer among our aging population. There are numerous treatments for cancer, some offering true hope of mitigating the diseases. The same is not true for Alzheimer’s. There is still too much we just don’t know. Treatment is in discussion among many researchers but little of it has been successful, except that which involves a major lifestyle change. Over 5.5 million people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. now and a huge rise in that number is expected by 2030.

The leading edge researchers who seem to be on the path toward effective management of dementia are not finding a cure with drugs. Stunningly, all pharmacological approaches to dementia have failed miserably. No company producing any of the medications offered to “treat” dementia can tell the consumer that their drug is going to slow or stop this relentless, deteriorating brain disease that steals the elder from you by degrees.

What we do know is that many common conditions older people in our country have will put us at higher risk for dementia, a term I use here interchangeably with Alzheimer’s disease. (Dementia is actually an Alzheimer’s symptom, but people use the terms without distinction). These are the same things that put us at higher risk for heart disease, the biggest killer in the U.S. They include being overweight and obese; lack of regular, moderate exercise, eating foods that aren’t good for us, particularly those with high salt and sugar, smoking, lack of enough sleep, and diabetes. There are others, but these are some of the most common. Doctors urge their patients to change their habits. It’s not working very well.

If you have an aging parent with dementia, it has probably crossed your mind that it could happen to you too. It’s a terrifying thought. We do know that specific lifestyle habits are very likely to protect us against this disease. Let’s look at just two of them. 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise is recommended, which could mean just walking briskly for 25 minutes, six times a week. Another is avoidance of refined sugar. If you look at labels, sugar is in just about everything that comes in a package, box or can. Is it worth giving up sugar, high salt and starting a basic exercise program? Consider the alternative. You may not just kick the bucket suddenly when disease conditions like Alzheimer’s disease creep up. No, the medical world will save you, revive you, treat you and keep you going. And then you live with those unpleasant consequences of all the years of your own choices.

Here at AgingParents.com, we see the struggles everyone has with an aging parent with dementia, the devastating financial costs, the heartbreak of a brain disease that can last as long as 20 years. We listen, consult, and advise. There is nothing like seeing how bad it is for others to motivate me to get off my duff, trying to avoid this happening to me.

I’m all in with prevention. I’m off to the community center pool tonight for a workout. I’ve got some kind of “moving my body” on the calendar six days this week. Hope you’ll find it in you, Boomers, to put on those walking shoes and get going, even if it’s walking up and down the mall for a half hour today. There are some risk factors within our control and breaking the sitting-down-all-day habit is one of them. Controlling our own risk factors is smart, so let’s be that, one step at a time. If you need help getting started, email us: info@agingparents.com.

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