If you've worried about being forgetful, thinking it might be a sign of Alzheimer's, you might not want to know about a new study conducted by the University of Kentucky—even though you should. In fact, you might think the study's results represent a glass half empty, but I think it shows a glass half full.
The university's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging followed the progress of older adults for ten years. At the beginning of the study, the 531 adults were all about 73 years old and had no signs of dementia. During the course of the study, they were asked if they experienced any changes in their memory. More than half of the participants did, and eventually 80 percent of those who first reported memory changes also developed dementia.
So here's the bad news: if you're an older adult and begin to notice forgetfulness, it may certainly be something to mention to your doctor, but may not signal a sudden deterioration.
And that leads us to the better news: even when participants in the study began to notice memory changes, the progress was slow. Most participants who reported changes were 82 years old on average, and once reported, it took 12 years for dementia and nine years for clinical impairment to occur.
Here's actual good news: that gap between noticing a change and having it greatly impact your life gives us a lot of time to work with.
Dementia is still a mystery to the medical community in some ways. There isn't a specific test to accurately diagnose it, or a medicine to give to cure it. But functional medicine doctors are learning ways to help identify unique genetic mixes and environmental risks that can increase the risks of the disease. Smoking, for example, can make people more vulnerable to developing a variety of diseases, including dementia.
We know there is a strong connection between inflammation and dementia, so following a diet that helps your body decrease inflammation and provide the essential nutrients can help. We know that other illnesses, such as high blood pressure, are also linked to dementia, so maintaining physical health through healthful eating and exercise is an important step in maintaining brain health.
With what we know about dementia and what we're continually learning, we can use this gap in time to enhance and/or prolong our mental and physical health.