Most peo­ple don’t know early signs of Alzheimer’s dis­ease

Rep­e­ti­tion, dis­ori­en­ta­tion among com­mon sig­nals

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Adri­anna Ro­driguez

A na­tion­wide study re­veals that al­though many Amer­i­cans say they want to re­duce their risk of de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s dis­ease, they’re largely mis­in­formed when it comes to risk fac­tors beyond ge­net­ics and age.

Ac­cord­ing to a MDVIP/Ip­sos sur­vey re­leased this week – in time for World’s Alzheimer’s Month – 80% of Amer­i­cans want to re­duce their risk of de­men­tia, but only about 35% say they know the symp­toms.

“If you don’t know what the early signs are, that means that you or some­one you care about is get­ting ill in front of you and you don’t know what it is or what to do about it,” says Ja­son Kar­law­ish, pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and co-direc­tor of the Penn Mem­ory Cen­ter.

The com­mon early warn­ing signs for de­men­tia caused by Alzheimer’s dis­ease, he says, are repet­i­tive ques­tions and sto­ries, trou­bles with ori­en­ta­tion and dif­fi­cul­ties with com­plex, daily tasks.

The sur­vey in­cluded a quiz that tested re­spon­dents’ knowl­edge of brain health. About a quar­ter of those sur­veyed say they know risk fac­tors, preven­tion, causes and dif­fer­ent types of de­men­tia.

“Alzheimer’s is one of the lead­ing causes of death and de­clin­ing health in the U.S., yet our data shows that the dis­ease is still widely mis­un­der­stood,” says An­drea Klemes, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer of MDVIP, a mem­ber­ship-based health care net­work.

About 1,200 peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey. An­drew Bud­son, pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­ogy at Bos­ton Univer­sity School of Medicine and au­thor of the book “Seven Steps to Man­ag­ing Your Mem­ory,” says the re­sults are con­sis­tent with what he sees in prac­tice.

Most peo­ple don’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s dis­ease, he says. De­men­tia is the gen­eral term for a de­cline in men­tal abil­ity se­vere enough to in­ter­fere with ev­ery­day life, ac­cord­ing to the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion. Alzheimer’s is a de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease that can lead to de­men­tia.

Bud­son says there are mul­ti­ple ways to re­duce the risk of de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s, in­clud­ing phys­i­cal ex­er­cise and diet. He specif­i­cally pointed to aer­o­bic ex­er­cises and the Mediter­ranean diet, which in­cludes rel­a­tively lit­tle red meat and em­pha­sizes whole grains, fruits and veg­eta­bles, fish and shell­fish and healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil.

Klemes says an­other im­por­tant way to pre­vent the dis­ease is to take care of one’s emo­tional health. Re­search has shown de­pres­sion is a risk fac­tor for de­men­tia, she says, and peo­ple with symp­toms of de­pres­sion tend to suf­fer a more rapid de­cline in think­ing and mem­ory skills.

The Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion es­ti­mates 5.8 mil­lion Amer­i­cans 65 and older live with the dis­ease.

A sep­a­rate MDVIP/Ip­sos study of about 1,000 adults found nearly twothirds of Amer­i­cans say the pan­demic has had an ef­fect on feel­ings of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

“We don’t yet know the long-last­ing con­se­quences that the pan­demic will have on the brain,” Klemes says. “Brain health checks ... should be a reg­u­lar part of pre­ven­tive care.”

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