According to Jeff Cummings, director of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health at Cleveland Clinic, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease every 68 seconds. It is not curable. It’s a nightmarish, life-in-death illness that slowly saps a person’s cognitive abilities to the point where they can no longer even remember their own name. And, at present, it is the third-leading cause of death in the United States.
A landmark study presented in 2011 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference found seven significant risk factors increasing a person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s: diabetes, lack of education, obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, depression, and lack of exercise. It should be noted that this doesn’t necessarily indicate a causal link: it just means the researchers found that people who suffered from these seven problems were at greater risk. The good news is that eliminating these risk factors from a person’s life can potentially prevent Alzheimer’s before it starts.
Scientists are working to understand why diabetes, and especially diabetes type 2, appears to be a risk factor in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Diabetes has been linked with vascular dementia, a disease in which loss of blood flow to the brain causes brain damage. Research also suggests that diabetes is likely to increase memory and cognitive impairment that can lead to Alzheimer’s. A study of over 1,000 Japanese men and women spanning 15 years indicated that people suffering from diabetes were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
6. Low Education
The study’s discovery that low education may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s is echoed by another study published in the medical journal Neurology in 2007. Spanning two decades, this study followed 1,388 people with low, medium, and high levels of education as they grew older. What it found was surprising: even those with a medium education were 40 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with low education, while those with high education were 80 percent less likely. Scientists are split over whether this is because education increases cognition, or because those who are uneducated tend to lead unhealthy lives which place them at greater risk. People who are minimally educated are also more likely to suffer from poverty, obesity, and a host of other illnesses.