The 3 Things That Trigger Alzheimer’s in Your Brain
Posted 5/25/2016 by UHBlog
A specific cause of Alzheimer’s disease has yet to be uncovered. But medical research is finding increasing evidence that suggests that living a healthier lifestyle may reduce your risk of getting the dreaded disease that impairs memory, thinking and behavior.
“There doesn’t appear to be a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease,” says neuropsychiatrist Brian Appleby, MD. “There are factors that predispose some people to get Alzheimer’s. Sometimes it can be prevented or delayed by addressing those factors, but sometimes it seems to be the luck of the draw. Like with most diseases, living healthy – eating right and getting exercise – can reduce your likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s.”
Generally, researchers believe Alzheimer’s occurs because of damage to brain cells – particularly those involved in memory – and the connections by which the cells communicate with each other.
According to Dr. Appleby, three categories of risk factors appear to determine whether a person will get Alzheimer’s disease, including:
- Age – “Age is, by far, the biggest risk factor,” he says. “As we get older, the proteins in our brains clump up and interfere with the cells and their ability to communicate.”
One in nine people ages 65 or older has Alzheimer's disease, while almost one in three people age 85 or older has the disease.
- Genetics – Genetics can also make some people more likely than others to get Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Appleby says. Genetic factors come in two types: gene mutations that cause a disease and risk genes.
“Mutations only cause about 1 percent of the cases,” he says. “A more common genetic variable is a particular risk gene, APOE-e4. Carrying one copy of that gene increases your risk two- to threefold. If you have two copies each from your mom and dad, it increases your risk by six- to nine-fold. But there is no magic bullet underlying the genetics. About half the people with Alzheimer’s don’t even have this gene.”
- Lifestyle – “Lifestyle is the risk factor that can be controllable,” Dr. Appleby says. “Smoking, alcohol abuse and conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity all are things that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
In addition to common-sense precautions, like a healthy diet and regular exercise, Dr. Appleby says “brain exercise” can also help delay or prevent the disease.
“Just like your muscles, using your brain tends to make it healthier,” he says. “Keeping it active keeps the communication pathways active. A lack of sensory stimuli can increase memory loss. Research done here at University Hospitals shows that if you remove people’s cataracts, for example, their memory actually gets a little better.”
That's why social interaction seems to be very important in reducing Alzheimer’s risk, he says.
“Introverted people tend to be at a little higher risk,” he says. “We encourage people to do at least one social activity every week–such as volunteering or getting involved with a church group. People should be actively engaged in activities like reading and having conversations. A passive activity like watching TV doesn’t count.”
According to Dr. Appleby, a greater awareness of living healthy may be having an impact on Alzheimer’s disease.
“Overall, the number of people with the disease is increasing, but that may be because the average age of our population is rising,” he says. “The actual number of new cases per age group is going down, which may be due to managing of controllable risk factors.”
Brian Appleby, MD is a neuropsychiatrist at University Hospitals. You can request an appointment with Dr. Appleby or any other University Hospitals doctor online.