How to avoid Alzheimer's

Caroline Cassidy

This year the theme for World Alzheimer's Day is 'Dementia. It's time for action!' The focus will be on the need for governments and the public to take any action they can to raise awareness of dementia and improve service provision for people with dementia and their carers.

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Each year, on the 21st September, Alzheimer associations across the world get together to recognise World Alzheimer's Day. There will be lots of events taking place up and down the country designed to raise awareness of the condition.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia and affects around 465,000 people in the UK. Dementia is a term used to describe the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by a specific disease.

Alois Alzheimer, the German neurological scientist was the first to name the disease. It is physical condition affecting the brain and the damage occurs because sufferers develop 'plaques' and 'tangles' in the structure of their brain. This eventually leads to the death of brain cells. Alzheimer's also causes a shortage of some important chemicals in the brain. The loss of these causes further problems with the transmission of messages.

Alzheimer's is also known as a progressive disease so that over time, more parts of the brain are gradually damaged. Inevitably, symptoms become more severe as the years go by.

The loss of intellectual and social abilities becomes severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. Memory, reason, judgment, language, and eventually the ability to carry out even simple tasks will suffer.

The cause of Alzheimer's disease is still unknown although scientists are constantly looking for causes and treatments. Recently, researchers have found that a simple vitamin pill could prevent the suffering caused by Alzheimer's.

The tablet that could cost as little as 10p a day and is made up of a complex of B vitamins could cut brain shrinkage linked to memory loss by up to 500 per cent.

Oxford University researchers are hopeful that the research could finally offer some hope to sufferers.

At the moment though there is no way to prevent the condition. However, there are some steps you can take that will delay the onset of dementia,

• Stop smoking
• Avoid drinking large amounts of alcohol
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
• Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day as this will improve both your physical and mental health
• Stay mentally active, for example, by reading, writing or taking an adult education course

While there may be no clear-cut causes of the condition there are some factors that play a part. Genetics can play a role in some people who develop Alzheimer's disease. A rare type of Alzheimer's disease known as early-onset Alzheimer's disease, affects people aged 30 to 60. Some cases are inherited. Familial Alzheimer's disease is caused by mutations in three specific genes.

Most cases of Alzheimer's disease are known as late-onset Alzheimer's disease. This generally develops after the age of 60. Although a specific gene has not been identified as the cause of late-onset Alzheimer's disease, genetic factors are thought to increase the risk.

It is worth noting that lots of things can cause memory problems, not just dementia. See your doctor if you are worried. There are treatments that can help.

If you want advice on how to get help if you are worried about Alzheimer's or are caring for someone with the condition you could try contacting your GP. Alternatively why not contact The Alzheimer's Society, The Alzheimer's Trust or the mental health charity Mind.

Research into Alzheimer's disease is continuing and as more is revealed about the condition new ways to treat or prevent it may be found.