Sunday, September 21, 2014

Autumn and Alzheimer’s Risk

My mind is gravitating from Summer to Autumn. There are few signs of autumn here in Missouri unless you count Halloween decorations, corn fields, and maple trees. Grass and most trees are hanging on tightly to their summery green hues. Temperatures are still hovering around the 70s and 80s—more indicative of summer than fall. Heck, I even managed to get my worst sunburn of the year yesterday while working in the yard. I wore a swimsuit top (hate the look of an entire suit!) and a pair of shorts. My formerly pale back is now fiery red and hot, hot, hot.

Apparently the autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere, according to Google is either  September 21st, 22nd, or 23rd depending on the source. So, I went with my best source—the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which gives the date and time as September 22 at 10:29 p.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time. That makes me understand the discrepancy between the 22nd and 23rd, but not sure how the 21st fits in.

 When autumn is in its full glory, it is a season hard to beat. Often the retirement years are considered to be the autumn of life. After working at a day job for years, I’m looking forward to coming into full and colorful splendor and living a full, and still, productive life. Most healthy retirees have this same ambition.

Unfortunately, just when we are hitting our stride all those darn pesky diseases try to interfere.
I could easily break my biggest concerns down to a few major illnesses that I wouldn’t want to develop—the Big “C”, heart disease of any kind, or dementia. Our risk of developing any of these diseases increases with age.

Sometimes, it’s just the luck of the draw that determines what our future holds in store. Other times, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to maintaining good health. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle—luck of genotype and health habits. We all know people who smoke their entire lives and never develop lung cancer. Yet, smoking is clearly a risk factor for lung cancer since 80-90 percent of lung cancer is attributed to smoking.

Although we don’t have such numbers to indicate this strong connection between smoking and Alzheimer’s, smoking is considered a “significant” risk for vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  Those especially at risk are people who smoke heavily between the ages of fifty to sixty.

Smoking is by no means the only culprit to increase our risk of developing Alzheimer’s—at the top of the list is my personal nemesis—obesity and sedentary lifestyle. I continue to battle with weight issues and make an effort to make healthy food choices. And after the past three days, I’m feeling downright cocky about conquering the sedentary lifestyle. I’ve been doing yardwork, mowing, lifting and loading brush, bending, stooping, walking, and more aerobic/weight lifting than I ever accomplished when I had my gym membership. I don’t see any short-term end to the physical workout either with all that remains to be done.

To further complicate matters, obesity and sedentary lifestyles contribute to two other risk factors of Alzheimer’s—hypertension and diabetes. It’s a catch-22 situation.

In addition to controlling these risk factors, Maria Carrillo, Alzheimer’s Association vice-president of medical and scientific relations, adds other helpful ideas to cut the risk of Alzheimer’s. She said, “Other lifestyle aspects that may contribute to healthy brain aging are eating a brain-healthy diet, being mentally active, and being socially engaged.”

The best and safest way to modify Alzheimer’s risk is to make healthy lifestyle changes: don’t smoke, exercise your brain and body, control your weight, and become a social butterfly. Is it easy? Not a chance!

Remember the three dreaded diseases that cut short the autumn of many, many lives? Well, guess what? Reducing the risk for cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s slashes the chances of developing any of them. Sometimes good health can be attributed to genetics, but more often it requires a personal commitment,  determination, and perseverance.

copyright © September 2014 by L.S. Fisher 
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