Doctors for USA WEEKEND
The statistics aren't great: About 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. That number is expected to almost triple in the next 40 years. But researchers continue to work to uncover what causes Alzheimer's, what happens in the brain as it progresses and what can be done to treat or prevent it. Recent studies have identified proteins and other potential targets that may help develop new drugs to slow or stop the disease. Here's a look at more of the latest findings:
Disrupted sleep could be an early sign.
Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied 145 men and women ages 45 to 75 and found that although they all had about the same quantity of sleep, those who reported poor quality had higher levels of a specific protein that makes up brain plaques found in Alzheimer's patients. More research is needed, but what we do know is that memory loss — especially forgetting recently learned information — is one early symptom. Others: trouble planning, solving problems or completing familiar tasks; confusion with time, place, visual images or spatial relationships; new problems with words; misplacing things more frequently; decreased judgment; withdrawal from work or social activities; changes in mood or personality.
Blood pressure meds may help.
A few recent studies on different classes of blood pressure drugs suggest they may have protective effects against Alzheimer's, slowing mental decline or even reducing risk overall. The science is preliminary, but it supports the growing body of evidence that suggests keeping your heart healthy — by controlling blood pressure and cholesterol for example — can benefit your brain as well. Known risk factors for Alzheimer's include age, family history and genetics. And though there's currently no cure, there are medications and lifestyle approaches that may help with memory and behavioral symptoms.
Caregivers need even more support.
Last year, 15.4 million caregivers provided more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer's and other dementias, the Alzheimer's Association says. Skyrocketing Alzheimer's rates worldwide will further burden caregivers. Top caregiving tips: join a support group, learn ways to manage stress, learn new caregiving skills as the disease progresses, know what resources are available. When people offer to help, let them.
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