Since 1906 when Alzheimer’s was first discovered and named, researchers and scientists have tried to come to an understanding of what might be the exact cause of the disease.
As with any disease, knowing the cause enables doctors to act preventively to help those who may be at higher risk. Although the direct cause of Alzheimer’s is not yet understood by researchers it can be stated that the disease involves the progressive failure of brain cells.
Further studies have been made to analyze any similarities in Alzheimer’s patients to determine if there were factors that may have played a role in making them more vulnerable to developing the disease.
Some risk factors may be within our ability to control while others may not.
* Old age is accepted as the greatest risk factor. Most people who acquire the disease are 65 years and older.
* Genetics play an important role. If a person has a parent or sibling with the disease their chances of getting it will increase threefold. The identified gene that plays a role in Alzheimer’s is labeled ‘apoliprotein E-e4’. This gene is a blueprint for one of the proteins that transmit cholesterol in the blood. Researchers believe that other genes yet to be identified may be involved.
Although, this gene indicates a risk factor the number of actual cases linked to it are very few in number compared to the actual number of Alzheimer’s patients. The conclusion has been reached therefore, that Alzheimer’s most often results from a combination of non-genetic and genetic risk factors.
* Severe head injuries are another common link found in Alzheimer’s patients.
* Health problems that may affect a healthy blood flow to the brain make another serious risk factor. The brain is nourished with an extensive network of blood vessels. It will use nearly a quarter of the blood that is pumped by the heart. Heart diseases, diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure are among some the issues that can contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s.
* Excessive alcohol drinking and smoking combined with poor nutrition can deteriorate overall health and therefore contribute to a breakdown in brain activity and health.
* Lack of proper physical exercise to keep blood and oxygen flow healthy can be a risk factor.
* Lack of sufficient mental and social activity that normally works to stimulate the brain cells and the neuron connections and thus encourage atrophy.
The evidence to date shows that though genetics may place a person at higher risk, the way a person lives plays a pivotal role. This gives hope that there is a great deal within one’s control. With care and effort in living a healthy lifestyle one may be able to avoid succumbing to this disease.