Ten factors that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
Associate professor of neuroscience, University of Reading
Although there are still no drugs actually effective, the researchers continue to develop a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study, based on a review of 396 research, identifies ten key factors that increase the risk of developing the disease.
1. The level of education
A low level of education is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The more you are educated, the more your brain is developed and it is heavy, according to research. Thus, when you lose a third of your weight brain because of dementia, a brain heavier can make you more resistant.
2. Cognitive activities
It is proven that keeping your brain active may also help in the fight against dementia. Activities such as crosswords or puzzles stimulate your brain and can strengthen the connectivity between brain cells. This connectivity is broken when there is dementia.
We must therefore continue to keep our brain active, even at an advanced age. Other studies concur that stimulate our brain to effectively reduce our risk of developing dementia.
3. High blood pressure
A healthy heart has long been linked to a healthy brain. A recent study indicates that high blood pressure in middle age increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.
A higher incidence of heart disease in people with high blood pressure impact on the blood supply and nutrients to the brain. Thus, the reduced blood supply to the brain is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Orthostatic hypotension
This study has also highlighted the opposite of hypertension, or orthostatic hypotension as a risk factor. The blood pressure of a person is abnormally low when she stands up after sitting or lying down.
As the body is unable to maintain adequate blood supply to the brain during changes in posture, this can have a debilitating influence on the long-term effect on the brain activity, due to the lack of oxygen to the brain, which increases the risk of dementia.
Studies have also revealed that diabetes was associated with a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. As this disease makes our body unable to properly regulate insulin, there is a change in the way our brain cells communicate as well as the functioning of our memory — two functions that are disrupted by Alzheimer’s disease.
Insulin is essential because it regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, helping the blood glucose to be absorbed by the liver, fat and muscles. Alzheimer’s disease seems to affect the brain’s ability to respond to insulin.
6. The body mass index
A high body mass index (BMI) in patients under the age of 65 years is associated with an increased risk of dementia. The study suggests that a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 for the under 65 years of age — in other words, a healthy weight — can reduce the risk of dementia. However, being under-weight in middle age and later in life may increase the risk of dementia.
We think that a mixture of genetic factors, cardiovascular disease and inflammation contributes to the association between BMI and dementia.
7. Head injuries
Of head injuries in the past are a risk factor. It is clearly proved that such injuries, like a concussion, can contribute to the development of dementia. This link has been observed for the first time in 1928.
However, it is not certain that the head trauma, single or repetitive, is the contributing factor. It is clear that the brain damage caused by trauma are similar to those of dementia. The risks increase as well to develop such dementia later in life.
High levels of homocysteine chemical is a risk factor. It is a natural amino acid involved in the production of the defense mechanisms of our body, including antioxidants that prevent cell damage.
High levels of homocysteine in the blood of people with dementia have been reported for the first time in 1998. Since then, studies have shown that reducing homocysteine levels may protect against dementia.
Animal studies suggest that elevated homocysteine levels damage the cells of the brain by interfering with their energy production. An increased intake of folate and vitamin B12 may reduce levels of homocysteine, and thus, the risk of dementia.
People with Alzheimer’s disease often suffer from depression, although it is not known if depression is the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, or if it is only a symptom. However, many evidence to confirm that depression is indeed a risk factor, as demonstrated in this latest study. Research has even indicated a link between the number of depressive episodes — in particular the ten years prior to the onset of dementia — and a higher risk.
Depression increases the levels of harmful chemical substances in our brain. An imbalance of these chemicals may result in the loss of brain cells, which increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
10. The stress
Finally, stress has been identified as a risk factor. In the long term, the stress target the immune cells of our body, which play an important role in the fight against dementia. In particular, it is demonstrated that the hormone cortisol contributes to stress and may have an impact on the memory. Aim to reduce stress and cortisol levels may therefore reduce the risk of developing dementia.
This study,which compiles decades of research, offers a complex picture of the way in which we can combat the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It clearly indicates the ten factors on which scientists should focus in the future. Although the results may seem somewhat encouraging, there are, on the contrary, since several of these risk factors can be managed or modified by lifestyle changes including a better diet and more exercise.
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This text first appeared on the website of the franco-canadian of The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.