Did you know that as many as five million Americans, aged 65 and older may have Alzheimer's Disease? This number is expected to double every five-year interval beyond age 65, according to a statistic from the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke.
While Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, it is not the only form. The risk factors for all kinds of dementia include age, alcohol use, smoking, atherosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, and genetics. Furthermore, researchers have found some other surprising factors that can heighten your risk. In a recent study published in JAMA Neurology found a correlation between over-the-counter sleep aids and cognitive decline. Below are three essential risk factors:
1. Anticholinergic Drugs
According to a recent study published in JAMA Neurology, it was found that a class of drugs called anticholinergics is associated with poorer cognition and changes in brain structure and function. There are some you would never expect, including over-the-counter sleep aids, sedating allergy meds such as Benadryl, sedating pain meds like Tylenol PM and prescription meds such as some antidepressants and urinary incontinence treatments.
Lead author Shannon Risacher, professor of radiology and imaging sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine says “We didn’t look at the amount each study participant took; just that they took them. However, we did see the risk heighten in the person who took more than one kind of anticholinergic.” It has been hypothesized that these drugs block the ability of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to act with the receptors. In addition, the study also showed that once people went off these meds, their risk fell to normal levels.
But, before you fret, Risacher points out that for now, they have found a correlation between drugs and cognitive decline, but they haven't found for certain that one causes the other. “Don’t go off any prescribed medications without checking with your physician first. These drugs are used for important reasons, all of which need to be treated in order to have healthy lives. Ask about alternative therapies or have your physician monitor your cognitive function,” she says.
2. Lack of Vitamin D
Researchers found that among study participants, older adults with blood levels of vitamin D that were below 20 ng/mL had an increased risk of cognitive decline in:
Episodic memory: Memory of past autobiographical events
Semantic memory: Memory of specific learned facts or general knowledge
Visuospatial ability: The ability to orient objects in the space around you using visual cues (this involves depth perception, the ability to find one’s way home and reading, among other things)
Executive function: Reasoning, problem-solving, planning and following directions
Study researcher Joshua W. Miller, professor and chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey says “It is unknown if vitamin D supplements will slow or prevent cognitive decline — randomized control trials are needed to test this. In the meantime, older adults with low vitamin D status, in consultation with their doctor, should consider vitamin D supplements, which are relatively safe, presuming the upper tolerable limit of 4000 IU per day is not exceeded.”
Vitamin D is found in natural sources like:
• Fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, swordfish, and salmon)
• Foods fortified with vitamin D, such as dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, yogurt, and cereals
• Beef liver
• Cod liver oil
• Swiss cheese
• Egg yolk
3. Heartburn Meds
Heartburn medication with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are among the most commonly used drugs worldwide. In a German study, the possible link among older adults between dementia and PPIs such as Prilosec and Prevacid has been discovered. The study concluded that “the avoidance of PPI medication may prevent the development of dementia.”
Professor and past chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Dr. Lewil Kuller, urges a measured response, explaining “This is a good study, based on solid science. However, we don’t know yet if the relationship is because PPIs lead to dementia, or that that the people who take these meds may be at higher risk for dementia anyway — smokers, heavy drinkers, obesity.”
So what is a person to do? “Be prudent,” says Kuller. “You shouldn’t stop taking these medications without speaking with your physician first, but you should be wary about taking them in the long term. If you need the drug, use it, but don’t take it just for mild symptoms."