Alzheimer’s: at what age should prevention begin?

Now better known, and therefore better fought, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a progressive degeneration (not a loss) of neurons, of which memory problems are the first symptoms. Age is the first risk factor. But many other factors can be reduced by adopting preventive measures, and even a true anti-dementia lifestyle!

At what age can you get Alzheimer’s disease?

Among the 900,000 people in France who have Alzheimer’s disease today, the vast majority are over 65 years old. From this age, 2 to 4% of the French population is affected according to Inserm.

Then, the number of cases doubles every 5 years until a peak: 15% of the French population having reached 80 years of age is affected by Alzheimer’s. In people under 65, the disease is rare (about 32 000 cases according to France Alzheimer). The knowledge of the disease has progressed a lot these last years. Even if it remains “incurable”, in the sense that medicine does not yet know how to cure it, it can be treated (contrary to a still widespread idea).

Several medications now help slow down the evolution of the disease, act on symptoms, and alleviate or even reduce certain behavioral problems and loss of bearings. Scientists, caregivers and families are also developing approaches to preserve the capacities of patients for as long as possible: these so-called non-medicinal treatments combine environmental adaptation, psychological support, cognitive therapies, physical and creative activities…

The first risk factor is age, but there is no age limit for preventing the disease

In addition to the progress in treatments, science and medicine are advancing constantly and more and more rapidly in the understanding of the risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease. Some of them are now well documented and they are numerous.

The first proven risk factor is unfortunately inescapable: it is age, as explained above. Another fatal factor is the gene: there are familial or hereditary forms of Alzheimer’s disease, which are very rare. There are also factors linked to more or less avoidable causes (cranial trauma or microtrauma, repeated general anesthesia…).

The level of education also seems to play a role: several researches have shown that a life rich in intellectual stimuli (long studies, fulfilling job, dynamic social life…) seems to protect from the disease, or to delay its appearance, or to allow the brain to compensate for a while its effects.

A last set of risk factors concerns our lifestyles (lack of physical and intellectual activities, unbalanced diet, tobacco, alcohol…), our environment (pollution), our state of health (chronic stress, depression, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, overweight, sleep disorders, oral inflammations…). On all these factors, everyone can act in prevention from a young age and especially without waiting to be 65 years old.

10 simple and not so simple things to do at any age to avoid or postpone Alzheimer’s

  • Play games! Cards, chess, Scrabble, Go, checkers, puzzle games, board games, online games… Provided that it is not itself a vector of stress, games stimulate brain functions associated with memory, concentration, attention…
  • Learn a foreign language, an artistic practice, a knowledge that interests you: it’s a good way to build up your brain and create a “cognitive reserve”, this cerebral capacity to resist the effects of aging by using other neural networks than those that are damaged.
  • Read on! Same benefits as above…
  • Get some sleep! Sleep quality has an impact on life expectancy, and on brain maintenance as well. When you sleep, it cleans itself of waste! In particular beta-amyloid proteins, responsible for part of the brain lesions (amyloid deposits) characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Watch your weight: a cohort study including 9% of the British population underlined that people with a BMI below 20 were more exposed to the risk of dementia (34% more risk). Other teams of researchers have shown that an extra point of BMI around the age of 50 could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by 6 to 7 months.
  • See people: the density of family, friends and social ties would tend, according to scientists, to develop the density of the neural network.
  • Balance your diet: we hear a lot about this or that “anti-Alzheimer” food (coffee, turmeric, blueberries…). Specialists agree that a diet that is favorable to the prevention of this disease (and not only that!) is the Mediterranean diet based on fruits, vegetables… But also foods rich in Omega 3 that are very beneficial to the brain (olive oil, flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, fish such as herring, tuna, mackerel…)
  • Play sports: physical activity helps renew neurons and maintain the brain (yes!). A meta-analysis of 15 scientific studies on nearly 34,000 patients showed that even low to moderate activity was 35% less likely to develop cognitive problems.
  • Treat your hypertension (if you have it) as soon as possible: you rule out a risk factor. Some scientific studies even suggest that treating high blood pressure reduces the incidence of the disease.
  • Take care of your teeth: the link between an oral bacterium (Porphyromonas gingivalis) and Alzheimer’s disease has recently been established. It’s best to avoid gingivitis!