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Alzheimer’s Disease – Reducing Your Risk Factors

The time to start addressing risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease may be earlier than you think. “Alzheimer’s disease is actually a midlife disease with later-life consequences,” says Stephen Gemmell, Ph.D., director of the Washington Regional Memory Disorders Clinic. “People who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease likely have already had the disease for 10 to 15 years before they receive the diagnosis.”

That’s why it’s important to get an early start on managing modifiable risk factors — things within your control — to reduce your risk of getting the disease. “Managing these can go a long way in minimizing our risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease and, if we do get it, in slowing its progression,” Dr. Gemmell says.

“People often think they don’t need to worry about Alzheimer’s disease until they’re in their 70s or 80s. But, in fact, we need people to start focusing on Alzheimer’s disease prevention when they’re in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” he says.

Prevention starts with making lifestyle changes to manage risk factors such as:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Psychological disorders like depression and anxiety

Physical activity is particularly important in preserving brain function, according to Dr. Gemmell. “When people exercise, they release a protein in their brain that actually helps grow brain cells and strengthen the brain cells that they already have. This helps preserve brain function and not only decreases the risk of neurodegenerative disease but also maintains a healthy brain even with normal aging.”

Dr. Gemmell recommends talking to a health care provider about any memory concerns you may have. “Oftentimes, doctors will refer their patients to us at the Washington Regional Memory Disorders Clinic,” he says. “Patients call also contact us directly at 476.463.4444. We will be more than happy to see them and see if there’s something we can do to help.”