No magic spell can prevent the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease on thinking and memory. And scientists have yet to find a pill that can cure it. But positive news is out there: Research is shedding light on ways to cut risk, and treatments are making life easier and more comfortable after a diagnosis.
Age and certain other risk factors for Alzheimer's disease can't be controlled. But you can reduce your odds of developing the condition. The latest findings show you can reduce risk by:
Not smoking. People who light up in midlife have more than double the chances of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, later in life.
Controlling your cholesterol. High levels of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, may harm your brain as well as your heart. And an HDL or "good" cholesterol of 55 mg/dL or higher might protect you from Alzheimer's disease. Other conditions that damage the heart and blood vessels—such as diabetes and high blood pressure—may also contribute to the risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Drinking in moderation. About 10 percent of all cases of dementia are alcohol-related. In contrast to heavy drinking, which damages the brain, moderate sipping might have brain benefits.
As Alzheimer's disease progresses, changes to the brain cause symptoms such as memory loss, changes in mood, and trouble sleeping. Doctors can't halt or reverse these alterations. But the newest therapies for Alzheimer's disease help by:
Slowing the disease's progress. Several drugs reduce or stabilize symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, and problems with reasoning to a limited degree. They work by altering different chemicals in your brain, and each has different benefits and risks. Your doctor will usually suggest trying low doses and assessing their effects, potentially adding higher doses or other drugs others later on.
Managing behavior. Sometimes, changing the environment can help ease symptoms like irritability and anger. Other times, medications to treat anxiety, stress, or depression can help, but these too can have risks, such as sedation or falls.
Improving sleep. Better sleep habits, such as maintaining a regular schedule and cutting back on TV, usually help, as does getting regular exercise. If not, doctors may turn to sleep-inducing medications.
Clinical trials continue to test new drugs for Alzheimer's disease. Scientists are now looking at medicines that already treat diabetes and heart disease, immunizations, and brain-training programs.