podcast on DeMystifying Alzheimer’s
Good Afternoon. Welcome to Demystifying Alzheimer’s. I’m your hostess Mary Yamin-Garone.
Today’s topic is “Depression, Stress and other Risks for Alzheimer’s.”
Depression and Alzheimer’s often go hand in hand. Depression can mask the disease, may be mistaken for the disease and may exacerbate it. Depression may precede the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms or develop as the symptoms occur.
Dementia experts warn that depression doesn’t “look” the same in those with Alzheimer’s as it does in other people. It also may not be as severe. Bouts of depression may not last as long, or happen as often, as they do in those who don’t suffer from the disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, individuals with cognitive problems may not be able to express their feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt and other emotions we associate with depression. They may be less likely to talk openly about wanting to kill themselves and they’re less likely to attempt suicide than depressed individuals who aren’t suffering from dementia. Depressive symptoms in Alzheimer’s may come and go, in contrast to difficulties with memory and thinking problems that steadily worsen over time.
Estimates of the number of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s who suffer from significant depression range from 40 to 70 percent and those who treat AD patients have long presumed that being depressed is a symptom or response to the disease. Some experts believe, however, that depression may be a cause, not an effect, of Alzheimer’s.
The fact that depression and anxiety are risk factors for memory loss may actually be good news. Strategies that reduce anxiety and depression can improve your mental health and well-being and may, in fact, help prevent memory loss.
The following questions are from what’s known as the geriatric depression scale. They can help determine if you or someone else is depressed.
· Are you basically satisfied with your life?
· Have you dropped many of your activities and interests?
· Do you feel your life is empty?
· Do you often get bored?
· Are you in good spirits most of the time?
· Are you afraid something bad is going to happen to you?
· Do you feel happy most of the time?
· Do you often feel helpless?
· Do you prefer to stay at home rather than going out and doing new things?
· Do you feel you have more problems with memory than most?
· Do you think it’s wonderful to be alive now?
· Do you feel worthless the way you are?
· Do you feel full of energy?
· Do you feel your situation is hopeless?
· Do you think most people are better off than you are?
If you answered yes to more than five questions, you may have symptoms of depression. Speak to your physician or a counselor about this sooner rather than later.
Excess levels of the stress hormone cortisol also can interfere with brain function, particularly memory. In response to a threat, your adrenal glands release adrenalin. If the threat is serious—or lasts more than a few minutes—the adrenals release cortisol.
Research conducted as part of the ongoing Baltimore Memory Study has linked high levels of cortisol with a decline in cognitive performance among the elderly.
Cortisol stays in the brain longer than adrenalin. It irritates brain cells and interferes with the function of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow your brain cells to communicate. Too much cortisol can damage your hippocampus, the part of the brain that is essential to learning and memory. That can make it difficult to think clearly or retrieve long-term memories in a crisis.
Your environment and education also are potential risks for Alzheimer’s. Your racial or ethnic background, how long you go to school and the work you do all come into play.
Those with fewer years of education appear to be at greater risk for AD and other dementias. No one is quite sure why but numerous studies show that individuals who didn’t finish high school are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who graduated from college. Some experts claim that learning in and of itself stimulates brain growth. They speculate that years spent in college or graduate school may help build up individual cognitive reserve, which, in turn, may help protect against Alzheimer’s or keep it at bay longer.
Highly educated people also are likely to have more mentally stimulating jobs, better overall physical health and more disposable income to spend on exercise, travel and other activities that are known to improve brain health.
Additionally, it may be difficult to detect Alzheimer’s in those with more than 16 years of education. That’s because they often can compensate for—or hide—the early symptoms of memory loss. Better educated people tend to be diagnosed later in the course of the disease, once their symptoms can no longer be ignored.
Low education levels are closely linked to poverty, poor diet and malnutrition, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes and restricted access to health and medical care. Those who struggle to feed, house and support their families typically don’t have the time, money or exposure to health education.
There are lots of things you can do to reduce your chances of developing dementia. Here are just a few.
· Be physically active. Regular moderate physical exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. ‘Regular’ means exercising five times a week for 30 minutes each time. Activities could include brisk walking, biking, swimming or dancing
· Stop smoking. It’s better to stop smoking sooner (or better yet, never start) but it’s never too late to quit. Even if you stop smoking later in life, it may reduce your risk of the disease.
· Eat healthy. A healthy balanced diet includes lots of fruit and vegetables. Adding starchy foods, like potatoes, brown rice, pasta and bread, and protein, like meat, fish, eggs and beans will also help lower your risk for Alzheimer’s.
· Take control of your health and maintain a healthy weight.
· Excessive alcohol. Regularly drinking above the NHS recommended levels of alcohol increases your risk of developing dementias, such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
· Keep mentally active. If you can keep your mind stimulated you’re likely to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. Try learning a new language, doing puzzles, playing cards, reading challenging books or writing letters.
· Be social. There is emerging evidence that keeping socially engaged and having a supportive social network may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. It also will make you less prone to depression.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I hope this information was helpful.
Join me at 1 pm Monday when I’ll talk about how to be a healthy caregiver.