Journalists around the nation are scrambling to discuss a medical report unleashed on Wednesday ranking Alzheimer’s disease as the third-leading cause of death in America. According to the report released by the American Academy of Neurology, Alzheimer’s disease, currently listed as the sixth-leading cause of death by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, may play a larger role in contributing to death in older Americans than originally thought.
The American Academy of Neurology’s report stated that Alzheimer’s contributed to an estimated 503,400 deaths for people 75 and older in 2010, putting it ahead of chronic lung disease, stroke, and accidents and behind only heart disease and cancer. Health experts believe that about five million Americans are currently affected by Alzheimer’s disease, leading many to wonder if there is any way to prevent what is now believed to be the nation’s number three killer disease.
Alzheimer’s disease remains an elusive mystery to health experts, researchers, and scientists, according to WebMD. Although genetic research has uncovered a hereditary link to late-onset Alzheimer’s (the most common form of the disease), researchers remain puzzled over why some people with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s never develop the disease and why many people wind up developing the disease despite having no genetic predisposition. Without knowing the exact cause of the disease, most believe Alzheimer’s is likely due to a combination of both genetic and environmental factors.
Is there any way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, now considered to be the nation’s number three killer? According to the Mayo Clinic, a medical practice and medical research facility based in Rochester, Minnesota, there is currently no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s or age-related cognitive decline. However, strong evidence has shown that people who work to reduce their risk of heart disease may also be able to lower their risk of Alzheimer’s. Mayo Clinic reports that many of the same factors that contribute to heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and being overweight, may also contribute to Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia risk. Mayo Clinic reports that new programs targeting those at high risk for dementia include physical activity, cognitive stimulation, healthy diet, “memory compensation strategies,” and social engagement. Because of the disease’s relatively elusive behavior, many health experts suggest participating in activities that boost overall health rather than relying on specific dementia-prevention strategies.
However, there are some health experts out there who believe that people can adopt specific brain-strengthening behaviors to help reduce risk of Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive decline. In 2012, Dr. Mehmet Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon and host of the popular television show Dr. Oz, partnered with neurologist Dr. Majid Fotuhi to reveal a five-step Alzheimer’s prevention plan. The plan is based on research that supported people’s ability to increase brain size at any age and includes suggestions such as taking a high quality docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplement, adopting brain stimulating switch-up exercises to add variety to daily mental routines, reducing stress levels, building memory teasers to increase information retention, and doing daily push-ups (yes, good old-fashioned push-ups) to increase blood flow to the brain. The doctors also suggest pairing these brain-boosting behaviors with their recommended “brain diet” to maximize brain health and help reduce risk for cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s.
As researchers learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, now considered to be the nation’s number three killer disease, many hope that the new information will lead to increased funding for both prevention and treatment. Alzheimer’s disease cost the United States an estimated $210 billion last year, according to the Washington Post. Funding for Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment in 2013 was an estimated $484 million, falling far short of funding for heart disease and cancer.
By Katie Bloomstrom