Increased forgetfulness and confusion. Difficulties in learning new skills or comprehending new information. Growing reliance on others.
These are all things most of us commonly associate as a normal part of aging – and we might even expect to see these changes in our loved ones as they age. But what happens when these subtle and gradual changes start happening in your 30’s or 40’s? For a growing number of people, these life-altering cognitive changes are not exclusive to the “golden years.”
Today we’re going to dive into exactly what early-onset dementia is, what causes it, and most importantly – what steps you can take to protect your brain.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia actually does not refer to one specific disease. Rather, “dementia” is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that interfere with a person's cognitive abilities. The changes caused by this group of conditions triggers abnormal changes in the brain that results in a progressive decline in your ability to think clearly and function normally.
These changes in the brain can cause devastating effects that get worse over time, such as:1
- Increased forgetfulness: Difficulty remembering new information, difficulty recalling important dates or appointments, needing to ask for the same information repeatedly
- Difficulty keeping track of things: Losing track of time, misplacing items, forgetting where you are and how you got there
- Changes in mood and personality: Increased agitation or aggression, withdrawing from social situations, feelings of depression and anxiety, severe mood swings, feelings of suspicion and/or paranoia
- Decreased ability to partake in normal activities: Difficulty with word-finding, trouble participating in conversations, impaired vision, decreased depth perception, trouble swallowing
The brain alterations that cause these troubling symptoms seen in dementia can be caused by a number of different conditions. Let’s take a look at some of the different types of dementia.
What Are the Different Types of Dementia?
Dementia is caused by progressive irreversible damage to your brain. The cells in your brain rely on their ability to communicate with one another to function properly. So as more and more cells become damaged, the brain's ability to properly communicate – to itself and the rest of the body – begins to break down.
This damage can be caused in many different ways, and by specific disorders including:2
- Vascular dementia
- Mixed dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Lewy-body dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Of all the causes of dementia, the most common and most well-understood is Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is Alzheimer’s and What Causes It?
Alzheimer’s is a specific disease of the brain that is characterized by:3
- An abnormal buildup of proteins – known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles – in and around brain cells.
- A decrease in neurotransmitters – chemical messengers that are responsible for sending messages between brain cells.
- Progressive shrinkage of certain areas of the brain.
Recent estimates indicate that the number of Alzheimer’s cases are growing, making Alzheimer’s the third leading cause of death among older adults in the United States. While this disorder is generally seen in adults age 65 and older, Alzheimer’s can strike at any time.
What Is Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Dementia?
Early-onset dementia is simply the development of dementia symptoms in adults younger than 65. Symptoms can be caused by a number of conditions, but by far the most common cause is early-onset Alzheimer’s.
And recent studies have found that the rates of early-onset Alzheimer’s are on the rise. In fact, researchers have found that in recent years, there has been approximately a 200% increase in younger individuals – between ages 30 to 64 – being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's dementia.4
Early-onset Alzheimer’s dementia can be particularly challenging because many of those affected are still smack dab in the middle of careers and raising families. And what makes this diagnosis even more challenging is that there are only limited treatment options.
So, Is There a Treatment for Alzheimer’s Dementia?
Currently, there’s no cure for dementia – whether caused by Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia. Treatment is primarily aimed at managing symptoms, keeping the person safe, and providing support to their family and caregivers.
But the good news is researchers are breaking ground and uncovering promising results. In fact, recent studies may have identified a drug that could potentially stop cognitive decline in its tracks.
Could Methylene Blue Help Fight Alzheimer’s?
Methylene blue is a drug typically used as a surgical dye or as drug therapy in the treatment of a blood disorder known as methemoglobinemia. But there’s mounting evidence suggesting that methylene blue might also have the ability to improve memory and brain function in people with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s dementia.
Exactly how methylene blue improves brain function and possibly slows the progression of these disorders is still unclear. But researchers speculate it may exhibit its neuroprotective effects via:5,6
- Disrupting tau aggregation and inhibiting the formation of amyloid plaques and tau tangles seen in Alzheimer’s
- Increasing the breakdown of the proteins that can accumulate in the brain
- Reducing oxidative damage
- Promoting the repair of cellular function and cellular metabolism
While studies are yielding promising results, more extensive research is needed to truly determine methylene blue’s place in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders.
For now, the best protection against dementia is prevention. Let’s take a look at some ways you can protect your brain health and give yourself an edge against dementia.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Brain Health
While genetics play a role in the development of any chronic disease – dementia included – the lifestyle choices you make on a daily basis have a much bigger impact. Think of it like this: your genes load the gun, but your lifestyle pulls the trigger. This is great news because when it comes to the choices you make on a daily basis, you have the power to make healthy decisions.
Some of the most powerful lifestyle habits that have the biggest impact on your brain health include:
- Quitting smoking: Cigarettes are chock-full of toxic compounds that disrupt normal bodily functions and increase oxidative stress. This oxidative damage can have such a serious impact on your brain that studies have found that smokers are a whopping 30% more likely to develop dementia.7 Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your brain health and longevity.
- Exercising regularly: Physical exercise boosts blood flow to your brain, reduces inflammation, and decreases stress – all factors that are good for your brain. Exercise doesn't have to involve hours on the treadmill or pumping iron at the gym. Any physical exercise is beneficial – whether it's a leisurely walk around the neighborhood or playing with the grandkids.
- Challenging your brain: Regularly exercising your brain by learning new things and taking on mental challenges helps your brain make new connections while strengthening existing connections. This keeps your brain strong and helps it resist damage.
- Eating a healthy diet: As the saying goes: “you are what you eat” – and a healthy diet equals a healthy brain. Focus on building your meals around fresh fruits and veggies, high-quality protein, and healthy fats to fuel your brain with the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
- Prioritizing sleep: Logging enough hours of high-quality sleep is essential to the health of your brain. Aim to log a minimum of 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, you can even try a natural sleep aid like LipoCalm.
- Minimizing stress: Chronic emotional stress can also put a damper on your brain health. So finding ways to minimize stressors while practicing healthy ways to deal with unavoidable stress can go a long way in keeping your brain healthy.
- Maintaining an active social life: Regularly connecting with others and maintaining meaningful relationships is an often overlooked aspect of health. Social interactions and loving relationships provide emotional support, combat stress and depression, and promote intellectual stimulation. These are all components necessary for brain health. While relationships with other humans are undoubtedly important, studies have found that the bond we have with our pets can have some serious health-boosting benefits as well.
Following these simple steps are some of your most powerful weapons at your disposal in the fight against progressive diseases, like dementia.
Set Yourself up for Success
Aging is inevitable. But the cognitive decline that’s often associated with getting older is not.
When it comes to your health, longevity, and preserving your brain function, you are your own best advocate. Taking steps to make your health a priority is 100% within your control and is your best defense against chronic diseases, like dementia.
Helping my patients and readers step into the driver's seat when it comes to their health is my mission. That’s why I'm dedicated to bringing you the best research and resources to give you the tools you need to take your health to the next level.
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Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to hear that symptoms of dementia can begin as early as your 30’s? What steps are you taking to prioritize your brain health? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.