Age-Related Cognitive Decline: The Science That Slows It Down
Cognitive health — the ability to think clearly, learn, and remember — is essential in helping us live happy and fulfilling lives.
Maintaining our cognitive health can become a challenge as we get older. Like the physical changes that occur in our bodies (e.g., stiff joints, wrinkles, etc.), our brain’s cognition also changes slowly and subtly over time.
You may notice you’re struggling to pay attention, for example, or find you’re having trouble recalling conversations or people’s names. These experiences are a natural part of aging and manifest as a condition coined age-related cognitive decline.
Cognitive Decline, the Earliest Symptom of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cognitive decline is a self-reported experience of “worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss.” It’s considered one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.
There are different forms of cognitive decline. One type of cognitive decline is mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—the early stage of memory or cognitive ability loss. It’s the phase between natural cognitive decline (due to aging) and the more serious decline.
While experiences may be different person-to-person and can vary daily in scope and severity, common age-related cognitive decline symptoms include the following areas:
- Memory: Forgetting names, dates, and places becomes more frequent. You may place items in odd locations (e.g., car keys in the refrigerator).
- Language: Forming words, phrases, or sentences becomes increasingly more challenging.
- Thinking or judgment: You may lose track of time or your train of thought. Making decisions also becomes more difficult or overwhelming.
- Apathy: An oft-overlooked symptom, suddenly losing interest in your favorite activities and people or giving up when something feels difficult can signal a mental withdrawal during the decline process.
- Incessant rumination: People experiencing cognitive decline can feel chronic stress or get stuck in a fight-or-flight response.
- Other Conditions: Many illnesses and chronic conditions are associated with cognitive decline. They include influenza, gastroenteritis, sleep disorders, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, take the opportunity to have a conversation with an Aviv Clinics physician to assess their severity and what you can do to improve your cognitive health.
Why Age-Related Cognitive Decline Occurs
There are four main reasons age-related cognitive decline may occur:
- Hormonal imbalance: As we age, it’s natural for hormonal imbalances to happen. Research indicates these changes are a key factor in the decline of cognitive function.
- Stroke and head injuries: Head injuries and stroke can damage blood vessels in the brain, which may incite cognitive impairment and even vascular dementia. Even a minor head injury sustained many years in the past increases your chances of developing dementia.
- Psychiatric disorders: Disorders like depression and anxiety have been connected to cognitive and functional decline. They are commonly experienced by MCI patients and can either be a contributing factor or a symptom.
- Heart conditions: Research shows that those in their 40s to early 60s with high blood pressure have a higher risk of experiencing cognitive decline later in life. Lowering blood pressure decreases the risk for MCI.
Disorders Related to Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Approximately 12% to 18% of individuals over age 60 live with mild cognitive impairment. If left untreated, MCI can bring on various disorders related to more significant age-related cognitive decline.
Approximately 10% to 15% of people with MCI develop dementia every year. Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of neurological conditions. These conditions negatively affect the brain—nerve cells stop functioning normally and eventually die, causing cognitive decline.
There are different types of dementia, such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease: Those with MCI are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease—the most common dementia diagnosis. In addition to cognitive decline, those with Alzheimer’s may experience shifts in behavior and personality. Read about the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Frontotemporal dementia (FTD): FTD can occur when there is damage to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Someone with FTD can show unusual behaviors, emotional problems, and difficulty communicating.
- Lewy body dementia (LBD): LBD happens when protein builds up in the brain. Common symptoms of LBD include movement issues (e.g., slowed movements, stiffness, tremors), cognitive issues, and mood shifts.
- Vascular dementia: Vascular dementia occurs due to a lack of blood flow to the brain. People typically experience issues with reasoning, planning, judgment, and memory.
How Science Slows Down Cognitive Decline
Your brain is a superpower, but energy (in the form of oxygen and proper nutrition) is needed to make it so. If you give your brain energy, especially as you age, you can effectively slow down the aging process.
Aviv has developed a way to harness the power of oxygen using Nobel Prize-winning research. The Aviv Medical Program includes a variety of therapies, including Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). What is HBOT? It involves sending 100% pure, pressurized (10-15 times higher than normal) oxygen to your deprived brain cells and body tissues, turbocharging your body’s own regenerative mechanisms. The result is faster healing of damaged tissues and higher regeneration of stem cells.
If you’re concerned about your (or a loved one’s) age-related cognitive decline, be sure to contact Aviv soon.
Role of Genetics in Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is currently the most widely diagnosed form of dementia in the United States.
It is a progressive disease that worsens over time, often to the point of interfering with daily activities.
While doctors have begun to understand more about what causes Alzheimer’s, we are still discovering exactly what sets off the disease process.
Are some people predisposed to the Alzheimer’s disease? Is there any action we can do to delay, or even prevent it?
Read on to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and the role genetics and lifestyle play in it.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia most commonly affecting people over the age of 65, though younger people can be impacted as well.
It is a progressive disease— symptoms are usually mild at onset and get worse over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with daily living.
In the early stages, people with Alzheimer’s tend to experience minor memory loss—for example, forgetting a person’s name or details of a recent event. As the disease progresses, cognitive functioning declines, causing more significant memory loss and other symptoms including:
- Difficulty making decisions
- Confusion and disorientation in places that were once familiar
- Speech and language challenges
- Personality changes
- Problems performing self-care tasks
- Ambulatory issues
- Low mood
People with Alzheimer’s won’t necessarily exhibit all of these symptoms every day, and some days may be better than others.
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
Scientists have researched the disease process of Alzheimer’s for years. While we are still identifying what can cause a person to develop Alzheimer’s, we have made some discoveries about how the brain works in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Today we know that there are two different protein structures in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease: Neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. It’s not currently known whether the presence of these structures causes Alzheimer’s disease, or if they are simply byproducts of it. We do know that both can impair cognitive function and can worsen as the disease progresses.
Neurofibrillary tangles are accumulations of a harmful protein called tau in the brain’s neurons. These tangles can inhibit the neuron’s ability to communicate, causing cognitive decline. Some studies reveal that a lack of oxygen in the brain is associated with neurofibrillary tangles.
Amyloid plaques are hard, insoluble clumps of beta-amyloid proteins that build up between neurons. Like neurofibrillary tangles, these plaques are toxic to brain cells and disrupt cell-to-cell communication. They can eventually result in cellular death, inhibiting cognitive abilities even further.
Brain scans can reveal the presence of both protein structures, which can alert your doctor to the presence of Alzheimer’s disease or indicate that you’re at risk for it.
This information can be used to help you adopt lifestyle changes and seek treatment to help maintain your health and prolong your cognitive function.
Who Gets Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is most common among people over the age of 65. In fact, an estimated 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 and 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 have Alzheimer’s.
While age is the biggest risk factor for the disease, Alzheimer’s can also happen to people who are younger. This is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Women also make up a disproportionate number of Alzheimer’s cases, possibly because women tend to live longer than men. It also may be linked to the reduction of the hormone estrogen that women experience when they go through menopause.
Lifestyle, as well as other diseases, like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, are also thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. Working to live a healthy life and control the onset of other chronic illnesses can help reduce your risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s as you age.
One major risk factor that we can’t control is genetics. Understanding how heredity influences the disease process and what we can do to mitigate it are important for making sense of the disease, as well as exploring timely options for prevention and treatment.
Alzheimer’s and Your Genes
We all know that genetic factors can impact our health in a variety of ways. Brain health and dementia are not immune to this connection. The link between Alzheimer’s disease, specifically early-onset Alzheimer’s, and genetics is apparent.
Scientists have found that genetics are often a contributing factor among those who develop early-onset Alzheimer’s, meaning they are likely to have an immediate family member who also developed the disease before age 65.
For those who develop the disease later in life, the impact of genetics is less defined, though family history still seems to be an important risk factor.
Another potential genetic indicator comes in the form of certain mutations of the APOE gene. Mutation in this gene is associated with higher levels of amyloid plaques and is often found in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
Your doctor can conduct tests to determine if you have this gene mutation and are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s because of it.
However, people who are genetically predisposed to develop Alzheimer’s disease may never develop it. But knowing your genetic composition can be powerful, especially if the information helps motivate you to make lifestyle choices that can help postpone or prevent your development of the disease.
What You Can Do to Help Prevent or Delay Alzheimer’s Disease?
There’s not much you can do about your genes—you didn’t select them or your parents. However, you can choose to live in a way that minimizes the impact your genes have on you and your health.
It’s important to focus on what you can control.
- Take care of your mental health,
- Practice mindfulness
- Challenge your brain
- Maintain strong social connections and relationships
- Get quality sleep
- Eat a healthy and nutritious diet
- Exercise to help prevent the development of other chronic conditions, like diabetes and heart disease
- Avoid smoking and drinking to excess
- Be careful not to expose your brain to harmful substances or to the risks of sustaining traumatic brain injuries
These behaviors can impact your cognitive function and may act as controlling factors for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Recent research has also shown that Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), like the specialized protocol used at Aviv Clinics, can be effective for preventing and addressing cognitive decline, especially as it relates to the early stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
A unique protocol of HBOT can work to increase blood flow to the brain and reverse amyloid plaques and even prevent them from forming in the first place. It may be a viable option to help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease in the near future.
Remember, it’s not just about how long you live, but also how well. Making an effort to care for yourself now will help you enjoy a longer, more full and active life while minimizing chronic health issues and cognitive decline.
Genetics is just one of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s. While it’s not something you can control, it is something you can impact through your behaviors.
People often underestimate the power that lifestyle choices can have on their future health, but they are an integral part of the overall equation. The way you care for your body today, or fail to, can have a major impact on not only your lifespan but your healthspan as well.
Early Signs of Dementia
We all experience bouts of forgetfulness from time to time, even at a young age. You might blank on an old acquaintance’s name or walk into the kitchen thinking, “What did I come in here for?”
Neither necessarily indicates dementia is in its early stages. Maybe you simply didn’t have your morning coffee, or you slept poorly the night before. However, considering the growing incidence of dementia in the U.S. and worldwide, it’s important to recognize the early signs and symptoms of dementia in yourself or a loved one.
Signs and Symptoms to Watch Out For
Some of the most common initial indications of dementia include:
- Trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks
- Memory lapses, in both recall and intention
- Confusion surrounding common daily activities or routines, such as paying bills or navigating a drive home from the grocery store
- Mood changes, such as depression, anger, or irritability
- Grasping for the right word or phrase
- Wandering thoughts during conversation
- Poor judgment
- Growing instances of disorientation
Different Types of Dementia
Many people interchangeably refer to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as the same condition. While Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia—and the most commonly diagnosed—it’s not the only one. Multiple diagnoses fall under the dementia umbrella and may produce unique symptoms in the early stages.
Alzheimer’s disease results from damage to nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. Initially, Alzheimer’s impacts the nerve cells that control memory, language, and thinking. Damage then progresses to parts of the brain responsible for reasoning and social behavior. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s can develop for 15-20 years before symptoms begin to appear. Currently, it’s estimated that 6.2 million Americans are living with the disease.
This type of dementia results from damage to neurons in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Symptoms include unusual behaviors, emotional problems, trouble communicating, difficulty with work, or challenges with walking.
How important are these areas of the brain? A classic example involves a railroad construction worker from the 1800s named Phineas Gage, who is now considered the first patient in the history of neuroscience. While working on the railroad, Gage suffered an accident where a large iron rod penetrated his skull and his frontal lobe.
He survived the incident, but his demeanor and personality changed completely. Previously known as a pleasant, hard-working “gentle giant,” he became, according to Dr. John Martyn Harlow, “…fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity, manifesting but little deference for his fellows.”
The impacts of frontotemporal dementia develop gradually. The condition tends to strike individuals at a younger age than other forms of dementia, with 60% of those affected just 45-60 years old.
Lewy Body Dementia
Many came to know of Lewy body dementia (LBD) when it was revealed that actor/comedian Robin Williams had suffered from the disease. LBD arises from abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. These deposits, named “Lewy bodies,” affect chemicals in the brain that can then lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood. Williams’ struggle with depression was likely a direct result of the chemical changes instigated by LBD.
LBD worsens over time but impacts certain individuals more severely than others. One challenge in diagnosing LBD is that it mimics indications of other brain diseases or psychiatric disorders.
Vascular dementia results from conditions that affect the blood vessels in the brain. When the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain is interrupted, it can induce changes to memory, thinking, and behavior. The size, location, and number of vascular changes dictates the impact of vascular dementia on one’s cognitive function.
For example, someone who has suffered a major stroke may experience damage—but so might someone who has had multiple small strokes over time. Growing research is investigating the connection between cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke) and cerebrovascular disease—and its subsequent cognitive impairment and dementia. That said, not everyone who experiences heart attack or stroke will develop dementia.
The aging process can also contribute to the development of vascular dementia. The body simply loses its ability to deliver blood as efficiently as it once could.
Mixed Dementia & Related Disease States
If someone possesses diagnostic characteristics of two or more types of dementia, they may receive a diagnosis of “mixed dementia. Other neurological conditions can lead to symptoms of dementia, such as:
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)—a rare, degenerative, fatal brain disorder that causes problems with muscle coordination, personality changes including progressive and impaired thinking and judgment, vision problems that may lead to blindness, and involuntary muscle jerks. Eventually, individuals with CJD lose their ability to speak and move, eventually slipping into a coma.
- HIV-Associated Dementia—while less of a problem now that the medical community has curbed the AIDS epidemic—HIV-associated dementia can cause behavioral changes and a gradual decline in cognitive function.
Huntington’s Disease—an inherited disease that eventually leads to brain cell death and resulting complications. HD may cause changes in behavior, emotion, judgment, and cognitive function.
What Else Might Cause Early Signs of Dementia?
If you or a loved one is experiencing dementia-like symptoms, it does not necessarily mean a dementia diagnosis is forthcoming. There are other factors that may lead to dementia-like symptoms. In older adults, even a minor infection like a urinary tract infection can lead to confusion or delirium.
If someone isn’t adherent to their blood sugar medication and their glucose levels drop, they may experience similar symptoms. Medication interactions (or medication/supplement interactions) may mimic symptoms of dementia. That’s why it’s so important for anyone who is taking medications or supplements to inform their doctor and pharmacist.
Ward Off Dementia with Health-Forward Habits
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for dementia. Medications have been employed to slow the progression of dementia, but with little success. However, there are steps that we can take to optimize our health and reduce dementia risk:
- Engage in cognitive interaction/stimulation
- Maintain an active lifestyle and a healthy weight
- Control diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and other chronic conditions
- Abstain from smoking, drug use, and excessive alcohol consumption
If dementia is at the root of you or a loved one’s symptoms, the best step you can take is to act quickly. Groundbreaking research is bringing scientists one step closer to mitigating age-related cognitive decline, especially related to the early stages of dementia. Patients in this landmark study experienced improved cognitive functions, including memory recall, concentration and response times in its test group.
A treatment based on this unique protocol is now available at Aviv Clinics Florida. Contact us to learn more about this study and the Aviv Medical Program’s approach to cognitive decline.
Music and Memory Loss
Music has a special way of unlocking the memory bank. For a person with Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive impairment, hearing a familiar song can trigger a memory, evoke an emotion, and enhance brain performance.
Studies have shown music can have a profound effect on people with memory loss conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. That growing body of evidence has led some long-term care facilities and caregivers to use music therapy to entertain, soothe, and help socialize residents with dementia and other memory loss issues.
Music is a part of almost everyone’s life. As early as infancy, music may be used to soothe a colicky baby. For many, music often serves as a soothing distraction, to elevate mood, as a motivator while exercising, or as a relaxation technique at bedtime. For others, music may be played as background noise as they go about their daily lives. Music may be such an ever-present fixture in everyday life that it becomes woven into the fabric of the brain. While listening to music, emotions are stirred and memories are stored, creating a link that ultimately becomes associated with a time, a person, or a place.
Why does music unlock memories? It activates those areas of the brain that are associated with memory and emotions: the hippocampus and the frontal cortex. When these areas of the brain are stimulated, they trigger the release of stored memories at the sound of a song.
Music’s effects on the mind
Music can have a powerful effect on the psyche. For a person with dementia or in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, music reduces agitation, soothes the spirit, and improves behavior and focus, research shows. Here’s how music affects the brain:
- Music stimulates the brain by evoking an emotion that triggers a memory. For someone with memory loss, hearing a familiar song has the potential to transport them back to a time in life that was pleasurable.
- It provides comfort. A person with cognitive decline can become easily agitated. Music has a way of reducing agitation and instilling a sense of calm. When someone is calm, they tend to focus better.
- Music elevates mood and reduces stress. Playing music activates a part of the brain that can improve mood and reduce anxiety, especially if it is music that’s familiar and well-liked. Studies have shown different types of music also play a part in whether it works to uplift or is counterproductive. Soothing music at less than 100 beats per minute, such as classical music, has been found to have a positive effect on memory and cognition.
- It creates a connection without verbal communication. For someone in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, communicating may be difficult if not impossible when words finally elude them. Expose them to a song from childhood or their teenage years and a person with memory loss may break out singing or dancing. It’s not uncommon for an Alzheimer’s patient, unable to speak, to sit down at a piano and proceed to play and sing.
Famed musicians, like Tony Bennett who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, are still able to perform and remember the lyrics despite memory impairment. However, learning new songs and remembering them is unlikely because of the disease’s progression.
Music has also been used as a therapeutic method to help stroke patients with aphasia to re-learn speech. They may not be able to converse, but they can sing a familiar tune. Using music can stimulate different parts of the brain to relearn and improve speech.
Are you a caregiver? Music can make a difference
To use music to trigger pleasant memories, boost mood, and soothe a loved one with memory-loss issues, try these tips from the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Choose music your loved one is familiar with and once enjoyed. If they’re able, encourage them to offer suggestions for their customized playlist.
- Play music that’s commercial-free otherwise the interruptions can be disruptive and confusing for them.
- Base your choice of music on the emotion you’re trying to invoke. A tranquil piece can induce a calm and serene feeling while a faster-paced song from their childhood might help elevate mood and evoke happy memories.
- Enhance their experience by encouraging them to tap to the beat, clap, or dance.
- Keep distractions to a minimum. Avoid other background sounds like TV or traffic noise. And keep the music volume at a comfortable level. If it’s too loud, it could lead to aggression or agitation.
The bottom line
The link between music and memory is significant. Studies show hearing musical pieces from the past can trigger strong emotions, and mainly positive ones because of their nostalgic connection. And not only does music trigger strong emotions and memories, but it can also boost mood, calm anxiety, and quell confusion in someone with cognitive decline.
Life After a Diagnosis of Cognitive Decline: What Now?
Whether you have received a diagnosis of mild cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, exploring the possible causes is the first step in moving forward.
Symptoms like forgetting where you have placed your glasses, frequently asking the same question, or failing to recognize familiar people may have led you to seek medical attention. Perhaps your family noticed changes in your mood or personality and urged you to see a doctor. Being evaluated and having a diagnosis may be initially disconcerting and stressful, but how you proceed from here will determine your best outcome.
Often, what may be causing the cognitive issues is something controllable and treatable such as high blood pressure, high blood sugars, stress, anxiety, medications, or drug and alcohol use. No matter what is behind the decline, the key is addressing those things that can be controlled and treated, and then choosing a healthier lifestyle going forward.
What is cognitive decline?
Cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. It can range from mild to severe, escalating to the point where the person loses the ability to comprehend, write, or speak. At that stage, a person can no longer live independently.
Age is the greatest risk factor for cognitive impairment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 16 million people in the United States are living with cognitive impairment. An estimated 5.1 million Americans aged 65 and older currently have Alzheimer’s disease, the most well-known form of cognitive impairment; this number may rise to 13.2 million by 2050, the CDC reports.
Stress and anxiety will most certainly follow on the heels of a diagnosis. Learning to cope in healthy ways will be crucial because stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms of cognitive decline. You may be tempted to isolate because you fear being embarrassed by your condition or want to hide your frustration when you are challenged to remember. However, do not shy away from being challenged. Do just the opposite.
Interact even more and engage in things that bring you joy. How you proceed after diagnosis could slow the progression or alter the trajectory of the disease.
Here are six things to do immediately no matter the diagnosis:
- Eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, good proteins and healthy fats, and limit those foods that contain saturated fats like butter and cheese. Some examples of brain-beneficial foods include coffee, blueberries, nuts, dark chocolate, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids which the brain uses to build brain and nerve cells, and are essential for learning new things and storing memories.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. Whenever you exercise, you are pumping more blood to your brain tissues, and with that comes a lot of oxygen and other nutrients vital for the brain’s functioning. Walking or swimming are great ways to get oxygen-rich blood pumping to the brain.
- Challenge your brain daily with activities that keep it stimulated like doing puzzles, taking quizzes, and reading content you enjoy. They help exercise the brain, enhance creativity, improve problem solving, and may slow memory decline.
- Get adequate sleep. Stay away from things that may overstimulate your body like tea or coffee before bedtime. Put down your phone or computer a couple of hours before bedtime so you can decompress naturally and slowly. Sleep allows your body to cleanse the brain of toxins and waste. Getting enough is essential.
- Find a good support system. It will be critical to build a good support system now that you have received a diagnosis. Whether it is a spouse, a friend, a family member, or a support group, having a connection with someone who cares about you and knows what you’re going through can keep you from feeling alone.
- Manage stress. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol will only worsen the symptoms of cognitive decline. Instead, try journaling, prayer, meditation, exercise, or whatever works to calm your inner spirit and reduce your stress load.
In some people, mild cognitive impairment can be reversed or remain stable, especially if it is linked to a medication. For others with a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the outlook can be harder to swallow since both are progressive conditions, and symptoms will eventually worsen. However, making lifestyle changes like healthy eating and exercising may slow the rate of progression.
The bottom line
Maintaining healthy lifestyle choices, including proper nutrition, exercise, social and cognitive activities, and adequate sleep, may help prevent or delay cognitive decline. For those who receive a diagnosis, the best approach moving forward is to cherish every moment of clarity, enjoy every day you are gifted, and maintain as many healthy choices as possible to slow down the disease.
As leaders in brain performance, the experts at Aviv Clinics understand the impact that a diagnosis of cognitive decline can have. The scientifically proven protocols of the Aviv Medical Program are designed to maintain your cognitive health and even improve the early biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.
Contact us to schedule a free phone consultation with a client ambassador and learn more about how the Aviv Medical Program can help optimize your brain health and performance.
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease: How to Prevent Cognitive Decline
We all experience lapses in memory now and then, especially as we age. For most of us, these minor cognitive issues are usually just annoyances. But if your cognitive issues are interfering with your daily life, they could be the beginning of something far more serious. Read on to learn more about the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and how you can preserve your cognitive health.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease? Early signs and symptoms
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that impacts a person’s ability to think, reason, and remember. It can severely impact quality of life as it progresses, eventually becoming completely debilitating. The most common type of Alzheimer’s disease is late-onset Alzheimer’s disease with symptoms usually emerging in a person’s mid-60s.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, ten early warning signs of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
If you’re experiencing a cognitive problem that impacts your daily life, don’t ignore it.
Dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can take action against cognitive decline.
What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
There’s still a lot we don’t know about how Alzheimer’s disease forms or why some people have a greater risk of developing it than others. It’s an active area of study, and researchers are discovering new things every day. The general consensus among scientists is that a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s take a look at some of the factors below:
Old age does not directly cause Alzheimer’s disease, though the risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after age 65.
Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men, though this might be due to the fact that women live longer than men.
People with Down’s syndrome also carry a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and so do those with certain conditions like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Suffering from a traumatic brain injury can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and put you at risk for other cognitive problems later in life. High levels of inflammation are associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Eating a diet full of inflammatory foods like processed sugar might exacerbate the risk of developing inflammation in the brain.
Certain environmental factors can also influence the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Exposure to environmental pollutants has been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke can also increase the risk of cognitive decline. Just another excellent reason to quit.
Harmful structures in the brain
Scientists typically focus on two different protein structures in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease: Neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. It’s not currently known whether the presence of these structures causes Alzheimer’s disease, or if they’re simply byproducts of it. Both can impair cognitive function and can worsen as the disease progresses.
Neurofibrillary tangles are accumulations of a harmful protein called tau in the brain’s neurons. These tangles can inhibit the neuron’s ability to communicate with each other, causing cognitive decline. Some studies reveal that a lack of oxygen in the brain is associated with neurofibrillary tangles.
Amyloid plaques are hard, insoluble clumps of beta-amyloid proteins that build up between neurons. Like neurofibrillary tangles, These plaques are toxic to brain cells and disrupt cel-to-cel communication. They can eventually result in cellular death, inhibiting cognitive abilities even further.
Brain scans can reveal the presence of both protein structures, which can alert your doctor to the presence of Alzheimer’s disease or that you’re at risk for developing the disease.
Is Alzheimer’s genetic?
Both early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease have a genetic component, meaning that If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s, you carry a greater risk factor for developing the disease than someone who doesn’t.
The risk factor is greater if an immediate family member suffers from the disease, such as a parent or sibling.
Genetics are almost always the primary contributing factor of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which usually occurs around age 30 or 40. Researchers have yet to identify any specific genes responsible for the development of late-onset Alzheimers. However, certain mutations of the APOE gene, which are found in chromosome 19, can contribute to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The specific gene mutation APOE ε4 is associated with higher levels of amyloid plaques and is often found in people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Genetic testing can reveal the presence of any gene mutations that put you at risk for cognitive decline.
Your doctor may order genetic testing if you have a family history of cognitive problems or early-onset dementia.
This doesn’t mean that you’re destined to develop Alzheimer’s if a parent or sibling had it, however. Some people who possess the APOE ε4 gene never develop Alzheimer’s disease, and some people with Alzheimer’s don’t have any gene mutations at all. Genetics is just one of many Alzheimer’s risk factors, and we still need more research to get the full picture.
How can I prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy (HBOT) has also shown promise as a potential preventative measure for biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research has demonstrated that a unique HBOT protocol can shrink existing amyloid plaques in the brain and even prevent new ones from forming altogether. The same study revealed that HBOT was also able to improve memory recall in people who suffered from mild cognitive impairment, giving us hope that HBOT is now becoming a viable drug-free method for preventing cognitive decline.
A treatment based on this unique protocol is now available
at Aviv Clinics Florida.
While none of us can change our genetic makeup, we can change our lifestyle. Practicing healthy habits can help lower your risk factor for nearly any disease, not just cognitive-related conditions. Lowering inflammation levels in your body can also help lower inflammation in the brain. Some of the things you can do to preserve your cognitive health include:
- Eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure
- Keeping your mind active
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation
- Avoiding excess alcohol
- Avoiding smoking
- Getting plenty of restful sleep
- Taking care of your mental health
While we still have a lot to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, anyone can lower their risk factors by taking charge of their lifestyle. Eating right, staying active, and challenging your brain are all viable tools in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Preserving your cognitive health starts with the choices you make every day.
Take care to maintain your health while scientists continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s and search for a cure.
Menopause and Brain Health
We all know that menopause changes your body. But did you know that menopause can also affect brain health? Hormone changes caused by menopause can cause cognitive issues like memory loss, learning problems, and trouble concentrating. These changes may be so gradual that you might not notice them at first, or so insignificant that you don’t pay them any attention. But is the brain fog you’ve been experiencing really just menopause, or something more serious?
How does menopause affect memory loss?
Menopause is the gradual shut down of the female reproductive system. In the United States, the average starting age for menopause is 52. However, perimenopause (the symptomatic period) can occur much earlier, lasting anywhere from two to eight years.
Perimenopause brings a whole host of symptoms with it, including hot flashes, sleep problems, menstrual changes and notably, cognitive difficulties. More than two-thirds of menopausal women report experiencing problems with memory, concentration, and executive function. For a long time, we only had anecdotal evidence of the cognitive difficulties that menopausal women face. But, recent studies have revealed scientific evidence that “menopause brain fog” can be clinically detected.
If you’ve been having trouble concentrating on your favorite book or struggling to remember words since beginning your menopause transition, it’s not just in your head. The fluctuating hormone levels in your brain could be the cause of your minor memory loss. There’s still a lot we don’t understand about why menopause and the brain. But, one of the key factors is thought to be the declining levels of the hormone estrogen, which plays a crucial role in the brain.
Estrogen isn’t just made in the ovaries. The hypothalamus gland in your brain also manufactures precursor signal hormones that ultimately end up making estrogen elsewhere in your body. Estrogen is active in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which are important to maintaining memory and executive function.
Having proper levels of estrogen in the brain is also vital to proper aging because estrogen imbalances are thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. More research on the physiological differences between men’s and women’s brains is needed to understand whether this is one of the reasons why women may be more susceptible to dementia than men.
Is it really just menopause?
Fortunately, menopause-related brain fog is often mild and can disappear on its own with time, just like other unpleasant aspects of menopause such as hot flashes. For many women, this is a huge relief. It can be incredibly cathartic to know that there’s a reason behind why you keep misplacing your phone, or struggle to concentrate on your favorite book. But there’s just one problem—how do you know if your cognitive problems are really just menopause?
The symptoms of menopause related brain fog and other age-related cognitive disorders often overlap. You might have been dismissing your brief lapses in memory as just another quirk of menopause, when in reality, they could be the start of early-onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Just because menopause can bring on cognitive problems, this doesn’t mean that your memory lapses are menopause-related.
But how do you tell the difference? What should you look out for when it comes to lapses with your cognitive abilities?
Menopause memory problems vs Alzheimer’s disease
Minor lapses in memory here and there happen to the best of us and are usually nothing to be concerned about. But if your cognitive problems are reaching the point they interfere with your daily quality of life, it might be time to talk to a doctor. Early symptoms for Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Repeating questions over and over
- Getting lost easily, even in a familiar area
- Trouble following directions or accomplishing simple tasks
- Difficulty remembering words, even for familiar objects
- Problems with decision-making
- Trouble handling money or remembering to pay bills on time
- Significant changes in mood, personality, or behavior
Women are over 60% more likely to develop dementia than men, so it’s vital to stay vigilant for the warning signs of dementia early on. When in doubt, it’s always best to raise your concerns with your doctor rather than dismiss them as nothing. However, even if you don’t have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, there are times when menopause-related cognitive decline can linger rather than naturally fade.
Estrogen and cognitive function
In this study published by the North American Menopause Society, researchers discovered that the advancement of menopause was a “key determinant of cognition” among both pre- and post-menopausal women. The women included in the study were primarily low-income women of color, some of whom also had HIV. The study lasted over a period of several years, following the women from pre-menopause all the way to post-menopause. Every two years, the women underwent testing to assess their cognitive abilities, including memory, verbal learning, attention span, processing speed, motor skills, executive function, and more.
Even after adjusting for age and other factors, the overall odds for cognitive function decline still increased throughout menopause. Many of those in the test group had even reached a “clinically significant level of cognitive impairment” by the end of the study. Although HIV might have had a role to play in the severity of the decline, cognitive problems also persisted in women that didn’t have HIV involved in the study.
It’s not currently known why menopause-related cognitive problems naturally fade in some women and linger in others. Fortunately, there are ways that you can help yourself through these cognitive issues.
How can I relieve cognitive symptoms brought on by menopause?
In general, living a healthy lifestyle can help you balance your hormones during menopause and alleviate cognitive symptoms. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising, and keeping your mind active.
Nutrition. Eat foods that promote brain health, such as whole fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and nuts.
- Fish are full of omega-3s, which can boost brain power.
- Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and collards are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like folate and vitamin E.
- Take care to avoid eating sugar and processed foods, which can not only increase brain fog, but worsen other menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes and sleep disruptions.
- Eating dairy products rich in calcium can also help offset your risk of developing osteoporosis, which increases during menopause.
Exercise. Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and an oxygenated brain is a healthy brain. Even a brisk walk down the block with your partner or pet can help you lift your mental fog. Exercise can also help ward off menopause-related weight gain, if you’re concerned about that.
Meditation. Of course, you can also exercise your brain directly. Mindfulness exercises like meditation can increase your focus and help you concentrate on your important tasks more easily. You can even combine mindfulness with physical activities like yoga to get the best of both worlds!
The bottom line
While menopause can leave you feeling foggy or out of sorts, you can take steps to alleviate your symptoms by living a healthy lifestyle. Keep an eye out for any cognitive problems that negatively impact your life, and contact your doctor if you feel that something is out of place. Whether you or someone you love is going through this transitionary period in life, remember to always be kind, patient, and understanding.
New Study Shows HBOT Can Reverse the Main Activators of Alzheimer’s Disease and Help Prevent Memory Loss
A groundbreaking new study has brought scientists one step closer to preventing and curing age-related cognitive decline, especially related to early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
This landmark study, published in Aging on September 9th, is part of an ongoing program researching age-related cognitive decline. Conducted by the Sagol School of Neuroscience in Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv University, the study marks the first time that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)—a non-pharmaceutical method—has proven effective in reversing the main activators and early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
HBOT is a form of oxygen therapy that involves administering 100% pure oxygen to a patient in a pressurized environment. It has been used for decades to treat other conditions, such as non-healing ischemic wounds. For the first time, it also has shown promise as a potential treatment for reverse the main activators and early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and treat brain and cognitive problems.
A treatment based on this unique protocol is now available
at Aviv Clinics Florida.
Aging and reduced blood flow
The brain is an incredibly complex organism home to a vast network of nerve cells (neurons) that depend on oxygen to thrive. As we age, the number of blood vessels in our brain naturally begins to decline. This causes reduced blood flow to the brain, which in turn causes the brain to receive less oxygen. This decreased blood flow is called vascular dysfunction, and it’s a known precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, along with amyloid plaques.
What is an amyloid plaque?
Amyloid plaques are hard, insoluble clusters of proteins formed in the spaces between the neurons in your brain. A healthy brain usually flushes them out without consequence. However, just like plaque can accumulate on your teeth if you don’t clean them regularly, the same thing can happen in your brain.
As the brain ages, it’s more susceptible to forming amyloid plaques in its blood vessel walls. Once an amyloid plaque forms it can damage the neurons in the brain. These plaques are thought to contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and the cognitive decline with it.
For years, scientists have wondered whether or not it’s even possible to dissolve or shrink amyloid plaques. The groundbreaking new study proves for the first time that a unique protocol of HBOT can reverse amyloid plaques and prevent them from forming in the first place.
How HBOT can reverse amyloid plaques
Study researchers initially used HBOT with mice to understand the effect it has on amyloid plaques. In this first part of the study, researchers delivered HBOT to a group of mice whose brains contained amyloid plaques. The mice received two 60 minute HBOT sessions a day, five days a week for four weeks. The researchers discovered that HBOT significantly reduced the amyloid burden in the mice’s brains, decreasing amyloid plaques by over 30% and shrinking plaques by nearly 19%.
HBOT was also shown to prevent the formation of new amyloid plaques, and the mice exhibited improved performance on cognitive tasks when compared to the control group, giving us evidence that HBOT improved their cognitive functions.
The mice-based study gave promising new evidence that HBOT can be used as both a treatment and a preventative measure for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers then sought to use the same protocol with human subjects.
The human test group consisted of six patients around age 70, all suffering from mild cognitive impairment. After receiving 60 daily HBOT sessions over a three-month period, the patients saw significant improvements to their cognitive functions, including better memory recall, concentration, and response times.
The researchers theorize that this is due to HBOT’s ability to increase blood flow in the brain. When the brain receives more blood, it receives more oxygen. And when the brain receives more oxygen, it can function at its full capacity.
What this means going forward
The study gives us hope that HBOT can be used as a viable drug-free method to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease, bringing us one step closer to preventing and even repairing memory loss and mild cognitive impairment.
“By treating vascular dysfunction, we’re mapping out the path toward Alzheimer’s prevention. More research is underway to further demonstrate how HBOT can improve cognitive function and become an influential tool in the imperative fight against the disease,” affirms Dr. Shai Efrati, one of the investigators conducting the study.
Dr. Efrati is also a medical advisor to Aviv Clinics in The Villages, Florida, which is the only location in the United States to offer the specific HBOT protocol used in this remarkable study. The Aviv Medical Program uses comprehensive testing and assessments before, during, and after the treatment protocol to track progress and provide multidisciplinary clinical team support.
For more information about the Aviv Medical Program, HBOT treatment, and how it may help your brain health, please contact us.
To read the study published in Journal Aging – click here.
Does High Blood Pressure Cause Memory Loss?
We all know that high blood pressure can cause a host of other health issues, although most of us are unaware that high blood pressure can cause memory loss. Cognitive decline is a side effect that isn’t always discussed. But having high blood pressure can directly affect your cognitive function, causing problems like brain fog and forgetfulness, as well as severe cognitive issues like vascular dementia.
Nearly one in three Americans and two-thirds of adults age 60 and older have high blood pressure, making it one of the most notorious killers in the United States. Fortunately, there are actionable steps you can take to manage your blood pressure, no matter your age.
Treatment options, such as the research-based hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) protocol available at Aviv Clinics, target associated health challenges like post-stroke, and age-related cognitive decline. Keep reading to learn more about how high blood pressure can cause memory loss, plus what you can do.
What is high blood pressure?
Also called hypertension, high blood pressure occurs when the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels is too high.
Every blood vessel in your body requires a certain amount of pressure to stay intact. High blood pressure may damage arteries, making them less elastic. Lower elasticity slows blood and oxygen flow to vital areas of the body. Health problems happen when your blood pressure wanders outside the acceptable range.
The higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk for health problems like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It also increases your risk of cognitive problems later in life.
What’s an acceptable blood pressure?
Normal blood pressure levels differ for every person and depend on age, weight, and other factors. According to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association:
- Stage 1 hypertension occurs at 130/80 mm Hg
- Stage 2 hypertension occurs at or above 140/90 mm
High blood pressure is unique because it doesn’t present symptoms on its own. The only way most people even discover that their blood pressure is high is when something more serious happens, like a clot. The best way to learn whether your blood pressure is at a healthy level is to measure it with a blood pressure machine at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or on a home blood pressure machine.
Tip: A home blood pressure device is a worthwhile investment to monitor your health. Take your measurements at the same time every day for consistency, as your blood pressure will naturally rise and fall during the day.
How Exactly Does High Blood Pressure Impact Memory Loss?
The brain receives roughly 20–25% of the body’s blood supply. When high blood pressure causes the supply to decline, the brain lacks the nutrition needed to perform at optimal levels.
High blood pressure can also harm the tiny arteries that feed “white matter,” or the wire-like cells that transfer information to different brain areas. These issues may manifest with memory problems, confusion, lack of concentration, and other side effects.
Age-related cognitive decline studies show having high blood pressure during midlife can affect cognition later in life. We’ll let these research studies help clear the fog on the link between the brain and blood pressure:
- In this study, men at an average age of 78 years logged their blood pressure. After adjusting for biases like prior education and age, the men who performed the most poorly on the test were those who had experienced high blood pressure in middle age. This suggests a direct connection between hypertension and cognitive decline later in life.
- More recent studies have helped to reaffirm the connection between hypertension and cognitive decline. Researchers found mental processing speed and executive function were the top two cognitive skills most affected later in life.
High blood pressure directly increases the risk of developing vascular dementia—a type of dementia caused by blood flow problems in the brain from strained blood vessels. The strain on the blood vessels makes it difficult for the brain to get the oxygen needed to function correctly.
Fortunately, vascular dementia symptoms can be improved through hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), such as the type available at Aviv Clinics in central Florida. HBOT works by delivering oxygen directly to the brain in a pressurized environment. The direct supply of oxygen allows the damaged blood vessels in your brain to heal, helping you regain some cognitive functions.
How Can You Manage High Blood Pressure?
While medication is often the first thing people think of, investing in your health via lifestyle choices and research-backed therapies is really the best medicine for managing high blood pressure.
The absolute best things you can do for your high blood pressure and brain health are the following:
- Eat a clean diet of whole foods to promote your gut health.
- Exercise to help maintain or manage your weight.
- Get enough sleep by establishing a bedtime routine, working up a sweat, and turning off the TV.
- Engage your mind by gardening, reading, or even playing a video game with your kids or grandkids.
- Reduce and manage your stress levels with activities like yoga or meditation. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you stay grounded in the present moment and reduce stress.
- Seek unique and comprehensive therapies, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). Research-backed HBOT programs, such as the one offered as part of the Aviv Medical Program, encourage damaged vessels to heal and cognitive functions to improve.
Aviv’s unique protocol may include HBOT, along with cognitive training, dietary coaching, and physical performance training. This holistic approach has been key to restoring our patients’ optimal health.
Find Hope and Healing with Aviv
While high blood pressure is dangerous, especially later in life, it is possible to manage it. It’s never too late to start, even after a cognitive decline diagnosis.
If you’d like more guidance, reach out to the Aviv Clinics team.