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Understanding Dementia and Reducing Your Risk

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Dear Readers,

We recently partnered with AARP Illinois to organize an event for members to learn about dementia prevention and brain health. The program was a big success.  And, we’d like to give a big thanks to the AARP and its members who attended. We have gathered the questions from audience members and over the next few months would like to take the opportunity to answer them here in this blog.

Question: What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Answer:  Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia. It is also the most prevalent type, accounting for 60-70 percent of all cases. It is thought to be caused by the accumulation of proteins in and around brain cells, and may be exacerbated by inflammation.

Dementia is diagnosed when memory and cognitive abilities are impaired to such a degree that the person cannot carry out routine daily activities. Aside from Alzheimer’s disease, other types of dementia include vascular dementia, caused by strokes and impaired blood flow to the brain, and Lewy body dementia, which affects memory and cognition, but also affects movement in a way that is similar to Parkinson’s disease.

Question: Do these types of dementia share risk factors?

Answer:  In 2015 the Alzheimer’s Association published a paper on the risk and protective factors linked to both cognitive decline and dementia. The report states that traumatic brain injury, midlife obesity, midlife hypertension, depression, smoking, diabetes, sleep disturbances and high cholesterol increase risk for cognitive decline and dementia in general.  And, they found that formal education, physical activity, eating a Mediterranean-type diet, cognitive activities and social engagement reduce risk for cognitive decline and dementia in general.

The factors that increase risk for heart attacks and stroke (like smoking, high cholesterol and hypertension) increase risk for both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer’s disease share these risk factors: a family history , older age, depression and anxiety.  Women are more at risk of Alzheimer’s, while men have higher risk of Lewy body dementia.

In our brain health neurology practice, we find that improving diet, improving and maintaining quality sleep, not smoking, being a lifelong learner and getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week are powerful changes people can make today to improve their odds for maintaining lifelong brain health.

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