Cognitive decline in the aging population is a major issue facing modern society today. Environmental and lifestyle factors seem to be playing a larger role than genetics as the NIH Institute mentions below in this post. It could be the very same lifestyle and environmental issues mentioned in this blog such as processed food diets and highly refined sugars and sugar substitutes, which interestingly enough seem to be producing the same health conditions that are mentioned below with cognitive decline.
In his New York Times Bestseller, “The World Until Yesterday”, Pulitzer Prize author Jared Diamond says this:
Alzheimer’s disease is the commonest form of dementia of old age, affecting about 5% of people over the age of 75, and 17% of those over the age of 85. It begins with forgetfulness and a decline of short-term memory, and it proceeds irreversibly and incurably to death within about 5 to 10 years. The disease is associated with brain lesions, detectable by autopsy or (in life) by brain-imaging methods, including brain shrinkage and accumulation of specific proteins. All drug and vaccine treatments to date have failed. pg 392
Sourced facts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH -National Institute on Aging
What Causes Alzheimer’s
Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but it has become increasingly clear that it develops because of a complex series of events that take place in the brain over a long period of time. It is likely that the causes include some mix of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Because people differ in their genetic make-up and lifestyle, the importance of any one of these factors in increasing or decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s may differ from person to person.
The Basics of Alzheimer’s
Scientists are conducting studies to learn more about plaques, tangles, and other features of Alzheimer’s disease. Advances in brain imaging techniques now allow researchers to visualize abnormal levels of beta-amyloid and tau proteins in the living brain. Scientists are also exploring the very earliest steps in the disease process. Findings from these studies will help them understand the causes of Alzheimer’s.
One of the great mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease is why it largely strikes older adults. Research on how the brain changes normally with age is shedding light on this question. For example, scientists are learning how age-related changes in the brain may harm neurons and contribute to Alzheimer’s damage. These age-related changes include atrophy (shrinking) of certain parts of the brain, inflammation, the production of unstable molecules called free radicals, and mitochondrial dysfunction (a breakdown of energy production within a cell).
Research also suggests that a host of factors beyond basic genetics may play a role in the development and course of Alzheimer’s disease. There is a great deal of interest, for example, in associations between cognitive decline and vascular and metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Understanding these relationships and testing them in clinical trials will help us understand whether reducing risk factors for these conditions may help with Alzheimer’s as well.
Further, a nutritious diet, physical activity (PDF, 871K), social engagement, and mentally stimulating pursuits can all help people stay healthy as they age. New research suggests the possibility that these and other factors also might help to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical trials of specific interventions are underway to test some of these possibilities.