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Women and Alzheimer’s Disease — What You Need to Know

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

Women are often the caregivers for everyone else in the family. So, we want to be sure someone is looking out for your health, too — in body, mind and spirit. And that’s why we’re talking about how Alzheimer’s disease affects women in particular, how to improve your memory, and how to recognize when you might need help.

Dr. Rosemary Laird, geriatrician at the Florida Hospital Centre for Senior Health, shares her insights in her authored article below. 

Women are at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease

Nothing is more frightening than the thought of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and statistics show that women are more likely than men to get it. For many of us of a certain age, we know friends or family members who have faced this devastating illness. Most likely some of you have already been a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. While this seems daunting, recent research shows that there are ways to reduce your risk. Let’s turn this knowledge into power.

What’s normal about aging

I cannot count the number of times I’ve wished my car keys had a homing device attached to them. Or that I could remember the name of the new neighbor I’ve been introduced to twice already. Or where I put my “to do” list. But does the fact that I forget these things from time-to-time mean I have to worry about something as serious as the onset of Alzheimer’s disease? Probably not.

Occasional memory lapses and breaks in concentration are quite common at all ages. The most common culprit is not paying close enough attention to the information. For example, sending an email and answering a text message while at the same time discussing dinner plans with your spouse. Sound crazy? It may be, but it’s also the way many of us live our lives these days. No wonder we can’t remember what day it is.

Tips to improve your memory

Try these 3 simple and effective steps to improve your memory:

  1. Pay attention and slow down—you need about eight seconds to make a memory
  2. Stop multitasking-focus on the information you want to remember
  3. Get organized-keep lists; keep the keys in one spot, etc.

In addition to keeping your memory sharp, there is plenty of evidence from medical researchers who have looked at ways to keep the brain healthy. Remember the old saying, you can’t teach an old dog a new trick? Not true. We know now the brain can renew itself and make new connections even in our later years. So, love your brain … with these ten strategies from the Alzheimer’s Association.

1. Get regular exercise

Regular cardiovascular exercise — 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week — that increases your heart rate also increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have confirmed a link between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

2. Never stop learning

Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. A class at a local college, community center or online can be a great way to keep your brain active and healthy.

3. Don’t smoke

Smoking has been shown to increase risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to non-smokers.

4. Maintain good heart health

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — have been shown to negatively impact your cognitive health, too.

5. Put your safety first 

Brain injury can increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike and take steps to prevent falls.

6. Eat a healthy diet

Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit for optimal brain health. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets have shown some possible risk reduction, including the Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).

7. Get enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.

8. Take care of your mental health

Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Managing stress is also important. Dr. Laird adds that it’s important to be especially careful if you find yourself in the role of a caregiver for a loved one with a chronic illness. Long periods of chronic stress can be harmful to your health

9. Build your social support

Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you and find ways to be part of your local community.

10. Stay up for the challenge

Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.

When a senior moment could be something more

For most of us senior moments will be nothing more than embarrassing annoyances. As more and more of us are living longer lives, however, it’s important to understand that the most powerful risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is age.

At age 85, each of us will have a 50/50 chance of having Alzheimer’s disease. While some argue it makes little sense to worry about an incurable illness, I advise patients to learn all they can about how to protect yourself (and your brain) from this very real threat.

While senior moments happen to everyone now and then, Alzheimer’s disease is much different. It is a disease which involves the dysfunction and decline of the brain’s ability to function. Think of it as brain failure much like we talk about heart failure when the heart is damaged from disease.

One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss so it’s understandable that senior moments raise concern. However, in Alzheimer’s disease, more than one cognitive process is altered. For example, people may forget the day or month, have trouble with finding words or making change at the store. As the disease progresses it worsens over time and ultimately affects ability to function. 

Typically, Alzheimer’s disease symptoms develop slowly and steadily over a number of years. If all your symptoms appear over a few months, it is not likely you have Alzheimer’s disease, but you could have another form of dementia. Other risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include being older, female, having diabetes, coronary artery disease and/or sleep apnea.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the top ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease are:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  4. Confusion with time and place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images & spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking and writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

If you are concerned, speak about your symptoms with your primary care provider. In some cases, they will evaluate you themselves. In other cases, they may seek out a consultation with a geriatrician, neurologist or facility that specializes in memory disorders.

Learn more about Dr. Rosemary Laird and the Centre for Senior Health by calling (407) 622-2647.