HEALTH MATTERS: Two factors may reduce Alzheimer’s riskQ. What factors predispose to Alzheimer’s disease, and what can one do to prevent it?
A. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. Dementia is a constellation of symptoms, including memory loss, that are significant enough to impact daily living.
By: Dr. Joshua Wynne, Grand Forks Herald
Q. It seems that we are hearing more and more about dementia. What factors predispose to Alzheimer’s disease, and what can one do to prevent it?
A. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. Dementia is a constellation of symptoms, including memory loss, that are significant enough to impact daily living. While the symptoms of dementia increase with age, and a growing percentage of individuals over the age of 80 have dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia can also occur in younger individuals. Dementia that typically occurs with aging (Alzheimer’s disease) is an often devastating disease of uncertain cause that is challenging to manage and treat.
Its frequency increases with age, so as the life expectancy of Americans increases, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease increases accordingly. While cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease, there is no good evidence that correcting any or all of these factors necessarily favorably affects the course of the disease.
In fact, although diabetes can be associated with dementia, overly aggressive treatment of high blood sugar levels has been linked to an increased risk of dementia! And recently it has been found that a type of irregular heartbeat that is common in the elderly (called atrial fibrillation or AF) is also associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, perhaps because AF may lead to small blood clots that conceivably might travel to the brain and cause ministrokes that result in dementia.
Two factors that seem to be associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease are physical and intellectual activity. It appears that using your brain and your muscles may have some protective effect against the disease, so I would suggest that you try to stay as intellectually and physically active as possible. And of course, we all should avoid or stop smoking, control our blood pressure, keep our weight under control, and eat healthful foods.
Q. Now that the summer is here, what can be done to reduce skin aging?
A. As we grow older, our skin ages with us. The aging process of the skin is amplified by exposure to sunlight. A recent report found that routine use of sunscreen in people under the age of 55 years reduced skin aging when compared with people who didn’t use sunscreen. And we already know that the use of sunscreen reduces the risk of developing skin cancer.
So now we have at least two good reasons to limit exposure to sunlight (and tanning booths) and encourage the use of sunscreen. By the way, it turns out that the over-the-counter medication beta-carotene, a so-called anti-oxidant, does not appear to be protective against skin aging. So lather up with sun screen with an SPF of at least 15 and use it liberally on exposed skin if you want to retard the changes of skin aging. And please don’t smoke (or stop smoking if you do), since smoking encourages skin wrinkles and accelerates skin aging.
Wynne is vice president for health affairs at UND, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a professor of medicine. He is a cardiologist by training.
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