What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) robs a person of memories and brain function. It usually strikes in older age. About five million Americans have the condition right now, and the number of cases are expected to rise. When you have this condition, brain cells die and the connections between brain cells weaken. The changes affect the parts of the brain that control memory, thinking, language, and behavior.
There are two main signs of Alzheimer’s disease at the cellular level. A protein called beta-amyloid sticks together to form clumps called plaques. A protein called tau twists inside brain cells. These twists are called tangles. Researchers are trying to figure out if plaques and tangles cause AD, or if they are just associated with AD.
The actual causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not yet known. Scientists are still trying to figure out the causes. They do know that having certain genes may make a person more likely to get AD. If you inherit one copy of a gene called APOE-e4, your AD risk will go up. If you inherit two copies of APOE-e4, your risk will go up even more.
One of the main risks for getting Alzheimer’s disease is aging. Even if you live a healthy life, you will still be at risk for AD when you are older. How much of a risk? When you turn 65, your chance of getting AD doubles every five years. When you turn 85, your risk of getting AD is about 50 percent.
Gender may also be a risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease. Women may be more likely than men to get AD. But scientists say that could be because women usually live longer than men. The longer you live, the more likely you are to get AD. Another risk for Alzheimer’s is a brain injury. People sometimes suffer brain injuries when they have head injuries.
You may be able to reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by taking good care of your heart. One way to do this is to keep your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in a normal range. Another way is to exercise, quit smoking, and drink little or no alcohol. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week.
Keep Your Brain Busy
Challenging your brain may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. That’s because your brain cells create new connections when your brain is active. The more new connections you have, the stronger your brain health becomes. This remains true as you get older. Some helpful brain activities include crossword puzzles, reading, learning a new language, playing music, taking classes, using computers, and traveling.
Socializing and Brain Health
Socializing is another way to make your brain healthier. Getting together with people can stimulate brain connections and brain cell growth. People who have little social interaction are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. If your family or circle of friends is limited, healthcare experts recommend volunteering in your community as a way of socializing. You will meet more people and keep your brain active.
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- About Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes. (2013). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/topics/causes#other
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- Risk Factors. (2013). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp