VA Maryland Health Care System
Prevention Tips For Alzheimer’s Disease
November is National Alzheimer's Disease (AD) Month. More than four million Americans have AD, and 19 million Americans have a family member with the disease. With the graying of America, the incidence of AD will increase. Clinicians are expecting the numbers to rise from approximately four million cases to nearly ten million cases by 2030. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates there are approximately 571,000 Veterans with dementia. This includes an estimated 333,000 Veterans with dementia who are enrolled for VA health care, with an estimated 206,000 receiving care at a VA medical facility.
A progressive, irreversible condition, AD is the most common cause of dementia, which is a general term for a decline in memory and other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. While AD is the most common cause of dementia-- a wide range of illnesses can cause dementia. Dr. David Loreck, a geriatric psychiatrist at the VA Maryland Health Care System who oversees the health care system's outpatient clinic for comprehensive AD assessments, says that dementia, or disabling mental decline, is not part of the normal aging process, as many people still believe. While scientists grow closer to understanding how AD can be prevented or cured, and even though recent treatment developments include drugs that can provide mild improvement in symptoms, there are no drugs that can stop its advance or provide a cure for AD or related dementias. However, Loreck offers the following tips that can optimize brain health:
- Stay physically active. Regular exercise provides many benefits, including reducing the vascular risk factors that may contribute to brain cell loss or damage as well as improving mood and cognitive performance.
- Control the biggest vascular risk factors that include chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, mini-strokes, or major strokes that may damage the brain. Quit smoking to reduce the chance of atherosclerosis.
- Eat a heart healthy diet. Here are some tips from the VA Maryland Health Care System's Food & Nutrition Service:
- Eat your fruit instead of drinking it! Aim for three servings each day.
- Add more vegetables to your plate, but remember potatoes, peas, and corn are higher in calories than the others.
- Avoid sweetened beverages: soda, juice, sports drinks, sweet tea, lemonade.
- Choose higher fiber whole grains - 100% whole wheat products are not your only option. Try experimenting with barley, quinoa, or wild rice for some variety.
- Lower salt intake: don't use the salt shaker, and limit processed and canned foods.
- Choose fish or lean meats over fatty or processed meats.
- Limit saturated fat, choose low fat dairy products and limit fried foods.
- Make sure all of your packaged foods have 0 grams of trans fat on the nutrition label.
- Watch portion sizes! Remember, just because something is good, doesn't mean more is better.
- Use it or lose it! Exercise your brain by engaging in as much mentally challenging and social activities as possible. Research has found increased mental stimulation such as cross word puzzles, and as much social interaction as possible keeps mental faculties sharp.
- Avoid stress. Research suggests increased stress can have many negative effects including increased cortisol, which in turn may damage the hippocampus, an area of the brain very involved in Alzheimer's disease and memory.
Care for Veterans with cognitive impairment is a high priority for the VA Maryland Health Care System with many Veterans returning from Iraq with traumatic brain injury. Increased attention of cognitive impairment with returning Veterans is hoped to translate to increased awareness when cognitive problems occur in the aging Veteran population.