Is Alzheimer's a Normal Part of Aging?

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You know that forgetting where you put your iPhone or why you just walked into a room isn't necessarily a sign that you're developing Alzheimer's. But still, the majority thinks this form of dementia that impacts some 44 million people worldwide is inevitable as you get older.

In a new 12-country survey featuring participants from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Japan, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the U.K., 59 percent of people said they believe that Alzheimer's is a natural part of aging. Another 37 percent of people surveyed incorrectly think Alzheimer's needs to run in the family in order to put you at risk.

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Sorry, folks, it doesn't work that way. It's always when people are really worried about something that they start spreading untrue "facts" like these. “Alzheimer's is one of the most feared diagnoses in not only the U.S., but also globally. It's second only to cancer, so most people do appreciate its seriousness,” says neuropsychologist Mary Sano, Ph.D., director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai in New York City. Below, help set your mind at ease about the scary disease.

What is Alzheimer's? Alzheimer's is neurodegenerative disease associated with the loss of some cognitive abilities, such as remembering or organizing things. These symptoms may also come up as you age, but for Alzheimer's patients, they are more accelerated and disruptive. Alzheimer's affects your ability to do everyday tasks, like managing your finances, shopping, even reading a book (you might not be able to remember what you read) and other day-to-day activities. Over time, this disease makes you completely dependent on others to do things daily. Unfortunately, there's no cure for Alzheimer's, but there are ways to treat it.

Who's really at risk? What causes Alzheimer's is still being studied, but new research has shown that the build up of a protein called amyloid may be responsible. Amyloid may be present in as much as a third of the population over 65. Having this protein doesn't mean that you're guaranteed to get the disease, but it may put you at greater risk of future deterioration. Also, if say, your aunt or grandmother had Alzheimer's, your risk will increase, but the disease is not exclusive to people who have a family medical history of it.

How can you prevent it? There's no concrete evidence to date that really anything will prevent this disease. However, there are some on-going studies that speculate that practicing smart lifestyle choices—being physically active, eating healthy and avoiding injuries, especially to the head—may lower your risk.

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