Not all that long ago, the average person hoped to make it through their working years alive and get the opportunity to enjoy a few years of “old age.” Today, the life expectancy of the average American is almost double what it was a century ago. Instead of worrying about making it to retirement age, we now worry more about staying healthy and fit enough to enjoy our “Golden Years.” One of the biggest threats to a worry-free retirement is an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. As the older population in the United States continues to increase at an unprecedented rate, so does the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The Londonderry elder law attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices discuss current facts and figures and risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The Basics – What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex.
What We Know – and Don’t Know about Alzheimer’s Disease
Despite what many have called the Alzheimer’s “epidemic,” we know precious little about the disease. What we do know, may come as a surprise to many people. For example, though people often think of Alzheimer’s as a newly discovered disease, it was actually identified over a century ago in 1906 and named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. Currently, over five million people in the U.S. are suffering from the disease. By the year 2050, experts expect that number to rise to 16 million.. Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined with one in every three seniors dying with the disease. We know that Alzheimer’s affects almost every family in the U. S in one way or another. Despite the prevalence of the disease, however, experts know very little about it. Not only is there no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but we are not even certain what causes the disease.
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
While experts continue to search for a definitive answer to the cause of Alzheimer’s, along with a way to prevent or cure the disease, the general public continues to worry that they will succumb to the disease. Only a physician can diagnose you with Alzheimer’s, though there are some known risk factors that might help you assess the likelihood of developing the disease, including:
- Age – experts tell us that age is the greatest risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The older you are, the higher the risk is of developing the disease. One in nine people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, and this figure rises to one in three for people over the age of 85.
- Family History – experts also appear to agree that family plays a role in predicting who will develop Alzheimer’s disease. A family history of Alzheimer’s disease will increase your chance of getting the condition, particularly if it is a brother, sister, mother or father who had/has the disease. The risk is greater if more than one family member has or has had the disease.
- Genetics — researchers have identified certain mutated genes associated with the disease. Anyone who inherits a copy of the APOE-e4 gene is at greater risk, and the risk is even greater if they inherit two copies of the gene. There are also deterministic genes which, if inherited, would guarantee the onset of the disease. This only accounts for around 1 percent of Alzheimer’s cases and often the patients suffer from early-onset.
- Head Injury – we don’t hear much about this one, but there is evidence to suggest that head trauma may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, particularly repeated head trauma.
- Heart Health — the risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases if you suffer from conditions that can affect the heart, such as stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
- Race — Latinos and African Americans are one and one-half to two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than Caucasians. The reason for this is unclear, although many think the higher rate of heart problems in Latinos and African Americans may be the cause.
Contact Londonderry Elder Law Attorneys
For more information, please sign up for one of our upcoming FREE seminars. If you have additional elder law questions or concerns, contact the experienced Londonderry elder law attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.