Welcome back and let me thank you for joining another one of our discussions on health and aging. I’m Dr. Pool, and our talk today covers Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a growing problem for the population as a whole, and there is no known cure. However, there are things that can be done to strengthen your body and improve your balance. Exercise and more specifically, swimming is just one such example.
To begin, allow me to provide a framework for the discussion on Alzheimer’s Disease.
- What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
- Symptoms and Treatment
- Swimming with Alzheimer’s
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible brain disease that deteriorates thinking skills and memory. While it is most prevalent in ages 60 or over, it can also affect those in their 50s and in rare instances, even younger.
It is the most common cause for dementia in adults – dementia is a loss of memory and intellect and not considered a disease. Dementia is a group of symptoms that may or may not accompany other diseases. It can affect the brain in other ways, in addition to the memory loss, including loss of judgment, confusion, and personality changes. Alzheimer’s can be found in 50 to 80 percent of dementia instances.
Those who have Alzheimer’s have memory problems and difficulty with reasoning and thinking, which leads to the inability to live independently. Changes that occur in someone suffering from Alzheimer’s can create a great deal of difficulty for them as well as their caregiver.
Because Alzheimer’s gets worse over time, it is known as a progressive disease. Symptoms develop slowly and become worse with time and eventually get severe enough to impede daily tasks. Alzheimer’s disease causes cells to die, bringing irreversible damage to the brain.
Although research continues, Alzheimer’s remains without any known cure. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
It is estimated that over 5 million Americans of many ages have Alzheimer’s in 2013, and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s double every five years after age of 65. After the age of 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.
Symptoms and Treatment
The most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is forgetting new information. Because Alzheimer’s affects the part of the brain which deals with learning and retaining new information, sufferers lose short term memory. As it worsens, it begins to affect long term memory, mood and behavior as well as presenting challenges in walking and speaking.
Those who may be suffering from memory loss or other potential signs of Alzheimer’s can find it difficult to confirm if they indeed have the disease, although it may appear more obvious to family members.
While there is no treatment for a cure, there are treatments that can slow dementia symptoms and improve the quality of life, meanwhile the search continues for ways to treat and someday prevent Alzheimer’s from occurring.
There are medications that can lessen the impact of symptoms for limited time periods. The FDA has approved two medications – Memantine – which includes Namenda, and Cholinesterase inhibitors – such as Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne and Cognex. These medications are used to treat the cognitive symptoms such as memory loss and confusion – but they are not permanent solutions.
Doctors may also recommend high doses of Vitamin E, a balanced diet and safe forms of exercise – like swimming!
Swimming with Alzheimer’s
In general, physical activity is good for those suffering with Alzheimer’s – it gives them something to do while keeping their body occupied and staying in shape. Alzheimer patients are not a high risk for drowning, but should be supervised or assisted during water exercises.
As mentioned above, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s. Bearing this in mind, regular physical activity can improve the health and well being of most people, and there are additional benefits when it takes place in water.
Studies show that exercising in a pool improves muscle strength and cardiac and respiratory health, improves mood and reduces anxiety. Additionally, a new study shows that women who were involved with a six-month water exercise program had increased their strength and suffered less falls, as compared to land based exercises.
Most of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are elderly, and falls can be a concern because of brittle bones. Perhaps the main benefit to swimming or water exercise is the buoyancy of the water.
Another benefit to water exercise is that although you feel 8x lighter in the water, the resistance to movement amplifies the workout. Moving slower through water than air, the resistance increases the effects of the workout, without requiring a correspondingly increased respiration or heart rate.
Though water exercise will not halt the progression of Alzheimer’s, it can be good for the body and mind by adding fitness to the daily routine. Swimming or water exercise can also improve the mental well-being, and provide a social outlet.
"Home Safety for People with Alzheimer's Disease." National Institute on Aging. 12 Oct. 2011. Web.
"What Is Alzheimer's?" Alzheimer's Association. Web.
“Medications for Memory Loss” Alzheimer’s Association. Web.