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5 clues to Alzheimer's

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SEATTLE, Wash. – More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease and nearly 35 million have dementia. Sometimes this frightening disease comes on quickly without many warning signs. However, researchers are identifying some clues to Alzheimer's that you should know about.

The first: high blood sugar, not just diabetes, may increase the risk.

"What we found was even far into the normal range, that higher levels of blood sugar were associated with a slightly increased risk of developing dementia," explained Paul K. Crane, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Internal Medicine at the University of Washington Medical School.

Researchers from the University of Washington studied more than 2,000 people and found those with higher glucose levels over five years had an 18 percent greater risk of dementia.

"The mechanism question is fascinating, and we don't know why," Dr. Crane said.

Another study found middle-aged people with high systolic blood pressure, which is the top number, were more likely to have biomarkers of Alzheimer's in their spinal fluid.

Every 10 point rise in pressure caused the average level of a protein—called tau—to increase.

How you walk may also be a clue to Alzheimer's. Mayo Clinic scientists found a slowed walking pace and shortened stride were associated with a decline in mental skills and memory.

Clue number four:  Depression is linked to Alzheimer's, especially if you have both depression and diabetes. 

"That dramatically increases your risk by over two-fold," said Wayne J. Katon, MD, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Washington Medical School.

The last clue lies in your chest.  Studies show as much as 80 percent of people with Alzheimer's also have heart disease. The best advice is to stay active, stay healthy, and watch for clues.

A recent study found Alzheimer's clues may start in infancy. Scientists scanned the brains of 162 babies, including 60 who inherited a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer's.

Babies with the gene had less brain growth in several areas in the middle and backs of their brains—the same regions that tend to be affected in older Alzheimer's patients.

Additional Information:

A new study found that elevated blood sugar levels, even among people who don't have diabetes, are associated with an increased risk of dementia.  Researchers followed more than 2,000 adults 65 and older.  At the start of the study 232 people had diabetes, while 1,835 did not.  Over the next seven years, one-fourth of the participants developed dementia.  About 20 percent had probable Alzheimer's.  When researchers compared participants' average blood glucose levels to their risk of dementia, they found that for people without diabetes, as glucose levels rose above 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), dementia risk increased too. People with average daily blood sugars of 105 to 115 mg/dL in the previous five years saw a 10 percent to 18 percent increase in the risk of developing dementia. (Source: http://consumer.healthday.com/senior-citizen-information-31/misc-aging-news-10/rising-blood-sugar-levels-tied-to-small-increases-in-dementia-risk-study-679050.html)

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE:  Researchers at the VA San Diego Healthcare System have discovered that people who have higher pulse pressure are more likely to have the Alzheimer's biomarkers amyloid beta, or plaques, and p-tau protein, or tangles, in their cerebral spinal fluid than those with lower pulse pressure. "These results suggest that the forces involved in blood circulation may be related to the development of the hallmark Alzheimer's disease signs that cause loss of brain cells," study author Daniel A. Nation, PhD, was quoted as saying. (Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131113162339.htm)

WALKING ABILITY:  A person's walking patterns or ability to do so could be an early warning sign of cognitive decline. The findings are the result of three studies presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver, Canada in 2012. The findings are the first to make a physical connection to the disease.  Experts say changes in a person's walking patterns may occur well before cognitive decline surfaces.  (Source: http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1112656706/walking-ability-precursor-to-alzheimer%E2%80%99s-disease/)

DEPRESSION: Depression is commonly reported in people with Alzheimer's and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, with several studies suggesting having a history of major depression may nearly double your risk of developing dementia later in life.  Researchers from the U.S. and Canada, say that the combination of depression and diabetes can speed up cognitive decline.  (Source: http://www.healthcentral.com/alzheimers/c/727598/162583/depression-cognitive/)

THE HEART:  The risk of developing Alzheimer's appears to increase as a result of many conditions that damage the heart of blood vessels.  These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Some autopsy studies show that as many as 80 percent of people with Alzheimer's also have cardiovascular disease.    (Source: http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_prevention_and_risk.asp)