Alzheimer’s disease currently affects an estimated 50 million people globally and over 740,000 Canadians. It is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that is characterized by memory loss and a decline of other cognitive functions that can result in severe dementia and even untimely death. Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be brought on by an anomalous build-up of proteins such as amyloid (deposits that form plaque-building proteins) and tau/neurofibrillary (deposits that form tangles) in and around the cells of the brain.

Who Gets Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is typically seen in individuals over the age of 65 and affects as many as one third of individuals over the age of 85. However, it is not limited to just this age group. In some cases, Alzheimer’s disease can also impact individuals who are under the age of 65, too – with symptoms sometimes appearing in those as young as their 30s, 40s or 50s. When this occurs, this is known as “early-onset.” According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, there are currently an estimated 16,000 Canadians living with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. While the cause of early-onset Alzheimer’s is not yet fully understood, there have been some studies that suggest rare inherited genes as the source.

Risk Factors and Prevention

Beyond genetics, there has been some research to suggest that one’s overall health, lifestyle and environmental factors may also be contributors to the development of Alzheimer’s disease – with the focus of ongoing studies being on things like the link between cognitive decline and certain vascular and metabolic conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. When it comes to preventing cognitive decline, mental stimulation is important – which can include things like reading and social engagement. Getting regular physical activity as well as consuming a healthy diet is also important in improving brain function.

Warning Signs

While one of the most common warning signs associated with Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss – it’s also important to be able to understand the difference between what is and isn’t considered normal. If you misplaced your keys on a certain day or can’t find your grocery list on another, these may simply be one-off cases of forgetfulness – or nothing more than age-related changes. It’s when these behaviours are repetitive and frequent in nature and start to disrupt one’s daily life that they start to become a concern. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are also more likely to start forgetting important dates, may ask the same questions more than once, or rely on friends and family to remember things for them. Once-familiar tasks may also become difficult, such forgetting how to drive to a frequented location (as well as forgetting why you’re there or how you got there), and the ability to plan, follow and keep track of certain things (such as making monthly bill payments.) Individuals with Alzheimer’s may also start to struggle with their vocabulary, as well as develop decreased decision-making and poor judgement, along changes in their personality and mood (including confusion, depression, and anxiety.)

While memory loss can be an uncomfortable subject to bring up, it’s important to speak to your healthcare provider if you notice one or more of the warning signs listed above. When it comes to diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, early detection is critical. While there is no cure, detecting Alzheimer’s early enough can potentially help to reduce symptoms, as well as help you prioritize your overall health.

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, as well as to find your local Alzheimer Society in addition to other resources, visit www.alzheimer.ca.