Did you know that worldwide, more than 55 million people are living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia? Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life.
We are living longer and by 2030 about one in five Americans will be 65 years and older. Longevity is one thing, however good health, well-being and vibrancy is another. As we age, we increase our risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, also known as comorbidities or multi-morbidities, and associated functional impairment – limitations in the ability to carry out day-to-day household activities and chores or experiencing interference in engaging in activities outside of the home. Many older adults live with a growing number of complex health issues that adversely affect their day-to-day functioning and overall quality of life. For some, these concerns are further compounded by the presence of memory issues. The question on many people’s minds is this, can having a chronic disease such as diabetes or high blood pressure increase your chances of developing Alzheimers?
First let’s define a chronic disease…
According to the CDC, chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention, or limit activities of daily living or both.
Many chronic diseases are caused by a short list of risk behaviors that are similar to those of Alzheimers and Dementia. These include:
- Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke
- Poor nutrition, including diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in sodium and saturated fats
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
But does this increase your chances of developing Alzheimers?
One article from the CDC mentions this: (https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/chronic-diseases-brief.html)
Subjective cognitive decline or (SCD) is the self-reported experience of worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss within the past year. It is a form of cognitive impairment and one of the earliest noticeable symptoms of more severe memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
SCD can have detrimental implications for living with and managing chronic diseases, or performing everyday activities like cooking or cleaning. When cognition is impaired, it can have a profound impact on an individual’s overall health and well-being.
Multiple chronic diseases (two or more) have been found to be associated with increased potential for functional difficulties. These difficulties can be further exacerbated by the presence of worsening memory. Among adults aged 45 years and older, those with one or more co-morbid chronic diseases reported a higher likelihood of having SCD interfere with their daily lives than those with no chronic diseases. Additional challenges for those with one or more chronic diseases include having to give up household activities or chores as a result of SCD, or having SCD interfere with one’s ability to work, volunteer, or engage in social activities outside the home.
In another article (https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/multiple-long-term-conditions-in-midlife-increases-dementia-risk/ ), researchers from the UK and France have found that having two or more chronic conditions in middle age is associated with an increased risk of dementia later in life.
Researchers found that having two or more diseases at age 55 was associated with a higher risk of dementia compared with people without any of the 13 chronic conditions.
The number of people with two or more chronic diseases increased as people got older, with 32% of people having two or more diseases at age 70. This was still linked with an increased risk of dementia but the link was not as strong.
When the researchers looked at those with three or more chronic conditions, the time at which people developed the health condition had even more bearing on subsequent dementia risk.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that we still don’t know all the direct links to Alzheimer’s and dementia, but what we do know is that living a healthy lifestyle – including sleeping well, eating a variety of whole foods, staying hydrated, active, and in community – can benefit us in multiple ways.
Here are some additional ways to keep your brain in tip top shape: