Written by Lori Jo Vest
Fact checked by The Brain Blog Team
If you’re a member of the sandwich generation - women in your mid-30's to mid-50's, caring for both children and your parents - you or someone in your circle of friends or family is probably caring for elderly parents with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It may leave you wondering, is Alzheimer’s Disease hereditary? If degenerative brain disease is in your family lineage, are you at a higher risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Speaking from personal experience, witnessing the mental decline of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in a family member is both harrowing and heartbreaking.
We began seeing signs of mental deterioration in my mother about five years ago. She became more and more paranoid, coming up with detailed, completely imagined narratives, accusing her husband of 25 years of strange things like hiding her belongings. She began calling the police to come to her house at all hours of the day and night to investigate her running list of his wrongdoings. She also became extremely forgetful, sharing the same stories of things that happened in the 1960's and 70's, over and over and over again.
During those years, she was also extremely resistant to seeing a doctor. My grandmother had had Alzheimer’s in her final years and we think my mother knew something was wrong and was afraid of what the doctors might find.
While I live in another state, I’m fortunate that my sister is close to my mother, so she was able to persistently insist on medical appointments and neurological testing, which eventually led to a diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
About a year ago, my mother’s neurologist started treating her with medication that helps ease her symptoms. She’s more stable emotionally and a lot less forgetful. What the future holds for my mother and our family remains to be seen, as each Alzheimer’s patient experience is unique. We pray for the best and take things day to day.
Knowing that both my grandmother and my mother experienced the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is anxiety-provoking. What will happen with my future brain health? And is there anything I can do to decrease my chances of suffering the same fate?
In researching my own potential for developing Alzheimer’s and dementia, I found that a family history increases my odds.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one “strong risk factor is family history. Those who have a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease … A family history of Alzheimer’s is not necessary for an individual to develop the disease. However, research shows that those who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer's are more likely to develop the disease than those who do not have a first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s. Those who have more than one first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s are at an even higher risk. When diseases tend to run in families, either heredity (genetics), environmental factors — or both — may play a role.”
If my odds are higher of getting Alzheimer’s due to my family history, what can I do to minimize the risk? Fortunately, lifestyle and health habits can help decrease the likelihood of getting Alzheimer's disease.
Mental health and wellness website helpguide.com recommends paying attention to the six pillars of Alzheimer’s prevention.
Pillar One - Regular Exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping activity per week, like fast walking, cycling or swimming. Add in 2 to 3 sessions of weight training and a few sessions of balance-oriented exercise like yoga or Tai Chi.
Pillar Two - Social Engagement: Volunteer at your favorite charitable cause, join a book club, or find a church that suits your spiritual beliefs. Becoming involved in your community may actually decrease your odds of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
Pillar Three - Healthy Diet: Keep your daily diet focused on vegetables and fruit, with cold water fish as a source of brain-healthy super nutrients Omega-3 fats and DHA. Cutting down on sugar and refined carbs like white flour can help cut down inflammation, too. Learn more about how you can nourish your brain to improve and protect it.
Pillar Four - Mental Stimulation: Stimulate your brain with challenging mental activities, like learning a new language, playing brain games like Scrabble or Sudoku, or taking up guitar or flute. People who continue to challenge their mental abilities show decreased rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These types of activities also improve overall cognitive function for as long as ten years.
Pillar Five - Quality Sleep: Make sleep a priority for better brain health - short and long-term - since sleep deprivation can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Good sleep practices include setting a standard bedtime and wake time, ban electronics from the bedroom, and establishing a pre-sleep ritual.
Pillar Six - Stress Management: Did you know that stress increases your risk of developing a brain disorder? Taking up meditation or yoga, making time for leisure, and finding humor in daily living can help keep stress from taking a toll on your brain health.
Besides adopting lifestyle changes that can help with future brain health, my research also tells me that the right brain supplement can help stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia. You can learn about this in greater detail through my article, "The Best Brain Supplements for Brain Health".
Two types of omega-3 fatty acids—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—are vital to normal brain health and development. Research shows that in adults over the age of 50, supplementation “improved brain structure, namely via white matter microstructural integrity and the volume of grey matter … In the case of older adults, a number of studies alluded that omega fatty acids could help to protect against neurodegeneration and the chances of developing cognitive impairment.”
My personal brain health supplement choice, Memory Health®, includes all natural ingredients with proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These ingredients are natural Vitamin E, Omega-3s EPA and DHA, and powerful plant-based nutrients called carotenoids (Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin).
Memory Health® got my attention because the science behind the product doesn't rely on peer group analysis and reviews to support its claims about improved brain health and functioning. Instead, it presents true and independent clinical research. The Memory Health® formula was developed by leading scientists studying the key role of nutrition for brain health for over 15 years. The supplement was then tested in clinical trials on both diseased and healthy brains, with scientific results published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. These results showed measurable improvements in cognitive function, memory, mood, quality of life, and overall brain health.
My confidence was further boosted by the fact that Memory Health® was recently granted a patent by the United Kingdom for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. A U.S. patent is pending. This news was recently published in Alzheimer's News Today. Learn more about the new patent for Alzheimer's disease prevention and treatment.
While my odds of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s may be slightly increased by my family’s history with the disease, I choose to take charge of my future brain health by adopting positive lifestyle changes, exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, keeping my stress low (or as low as possible for a busy entrepreneur!), and supplementing my brain with the clinically proven and patented Memory Health® formula.