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Most People Get Alzheimer's This Way, Experts Say

Reduce your risk.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Alzheimer's disease can seem scary and mysterious. A progressive disease that eventually robs a person of the ability to communicate and function, it's not entirely understood, although scientists are learning more all the time. In recent years, they've discovered that most people who get Alzheimer's have certain risk factors, and there are things you can do to significantly reduce your risk. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

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Alzheimer's disease causes changes to memory, thinking, and personality. Eventually, these interfere with a person's ability to function independently. "Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years," says the Alzheimer's Association. "In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment." 

Although Alzheimer's currently has no cure, a drug called aducanumab may be able to slow cognitive decline. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, almost 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's today. It's currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. 

2

Most People Get Alzheimer's This Way

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"Scientists believe that for most people, Alzheimer's disease is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time," says the Mayo Clinic.

These factors may include:

3

Age

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Age. This is the #1 risk factor for Alzheimer's. The risk of developing the disease increases after 65.

4

Genes

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Genes. Your risk is somewhat higher if a member of your immediate family had Alzheimer's.

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5

Lifestyle Choices

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Lifestyle choices. Obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can increase the risk of both heart disease and Alzheimer's. Some studies have found that as many as 80% of people with Alzheimer's disease also have cardiovascular disease. Excessive alcohol consumption has also been associated with a higher risk of dementia.

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6

Social Isolation

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Social isolation or a lack of intellectual engagement. Research has found that people who are socially isolated or less mentally active have an increased risk of developing dementia. 

Experts believe those factors may lead to changes in the brain that produce the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

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7

Toxic Debris Build Up in Brain

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Although the causes of Alzheimer's aren't completely understood, scientists have zeroed in on the buildup of debris in the brain, which causes brain proteins to stop functioning correctly. Brain cells called neurons become damaged, lose connections to each other and die.

Two kinds of debris that seem to be responsible are plaques (protein fragments that cluster together with other cell debris, disrupting cellular communication) and tangles (proteins that change shape and group themselves together, disrupting the brain's transport system and killing off healthy cells). 

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How to Reduce Your Risk

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"Although some risk factors — such as age or genes — cannot be changed, other risk factors — such as high blood pressure and lack of exercise — usually can be changed to help reduce risk," the Alzheimer's Association says. Experts recommend:

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Getting Regular Exercise

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Getting regular exercise. CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta says this is the best thing you can do to reduce risk. "Exercise, both aerobic and nonaerobic (strength training), is not only good for the body; it's even better for the brain," he said.

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Getting Quality Sleep

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Getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. During sleep, the brain undergoes a "rinse cycle" in which it sweeps away debris and toxins, says Gupta.

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Maintaining Heart Health

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Maintaining heart health. Eat a heart-healthy diet, high in fruits and vegetables, low in red meat, added sugar, and processed foods. 

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Staying Socially And Mentally Active

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Staying socially and mentally active. Being socially engaged and regularly "exercising" the brain with mentally stimulating activity seems to keep it healthier. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael