lthough it is no longer accepted that aging means cognitive demise, a strong relationship exists between aging and dementia, and advancing age is the single most important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
More than 5 percent of people over the age of 65, and more than 40 percent of those over the age of 85, may suffer from dementia. This means that some 6 million people currently are living with dementia.
A large percentage of dementing diseases are potentially reversible, if the underlying process is identified at a predementia stage called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Another subset of dementia is related to vascular disease, which could be a result of abnormal blood pressure, diabetes, and other disorders leading to vascular compromise and, ultimately, cerebral ischemia.
The third category represents progressive neurodegenerative dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, Lewy body disease, and frontotemporal dementia, among others. A person’s lifestyle and susceptibility to disease are believed to influence these conditions. In fact, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, elevated homocysteine levels, and other vascular risk factors are all implicated in worsening progressive dementia. There is much evidence that early detection and intervention at the MCI stage can significantly affect the natural history of the disease and potentially slow its progression.
The Adventist Health Studies (see page 16 in this issue) have shed much light on the influence of aging and lifestyle choices on incidence, prevalence, and outcome of diseases that affect the mind. This knowledge is helping health professionals prevent and treat dementia.
Abdullah Dean Sherzai, M.D., MAS, is director of the Memory Disorders Center, in association with the Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center, and also teaches Epidemiology of Aging at the univeristy's school of public health. To contact the center, call 909-558-2880.