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Dementia, Parkinson’s & Stroke: Breaking Down Myths Vs. Facts

Kensington Park was proud to host an interactive panel discussion featuring leading neurologist experts on October 21, 2021. Together, they broke down the causes of brain diseases and dispel common myths.

The panelists include Dr. Mohess with Inova Health System, Matt Edwardson with Georgetown University, Dr. Grill with Johns Hopkins, and Dr. Etesam with Reston Hospital Center.

This event was a continuation of our educational series on brain health. Learn more from our past event, Brain it On! 

If you’re the caregiver of a loved one with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or who has recently experienced a stroke, you can benefit from this information. Learn more about these diseases and how to manage them.

Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors

Alzheimer’s disease, like other types of dementia, is caused by an accumulation of proteins in and around the brain cells.

These protein accumulations are commonly referred to as “plaques and tangles.” Sticky proteins form micro-deposits in the brain to form “plaques” around brain cells. Another sticky protein called tau deposits itself in the brain to form “tangles.” 

Once formed, plaques and tangles interfere with the brain’s ability to transmit messages between neurons, and ultimately through the nervous system. This causes mental and physical dysfunction. 

While this disease eventually leads to brain atrophy, some people can live with Alzheimer’s disease for 20 years or more. The average life expectancy is somewhere around 4-8 years after diagnosis.

It’s currently unknown what specifically triggers Alzheimer’s disease. There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the disease, including:

  • Being over the age of 65
  • Having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Having a history of head injuries or traumatic brain injuries
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression
  • Hearing loss
  • Social isolation
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure

How are Parkinson’s Disease and Strokes Related to Dementia?

Parkinson’s disease is another form of neurodegenerative disease. This is a type of disease that results in the progressive loss and function of neurons, or brain cells. 

Parkinson’s occurs when dopamine-producing neurons in the brain begin to die, resulting in a low or falling level of dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter, and without it, the body’s motor system cannot function properly. 

This results in tremors, rigidity, and difficulty walking. It also can affect cognitive and behavior, creating anxiety and depression.

Parkinson’s disease can also cause Lewy Body Dementia, a type of dementia that’s caused by similar micro-deposits of proteins that block the brain’s communication. These proteins are called “Lewy bodies.” Like plaques and tangles, Lewy bodies create barriers within the brain that restrict communication.

Strokes can also cause a form of dementia known as vascular dementia. When blood flow is interrupted in the brain, creating an oxygen deficiency that can kill neurons, a stroke happens. Strokes can either be caused by internal bleeding in the brain or by blockages in the circulatory system.

There is a strong link between strokes and other Alzheimer’s disease risk factors. One study found that half of Alzheimer’s patients’ brains had evidence of a stroke.

Are Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Strokes Hereditary or Environment-Based? 

When it comes to strokes, the main cause is usually environment-based, or behavioral-based. 

Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the main cause leading to stroke. Risk factors include being overweight and obese, being physically inactive, heavy drinking, smoking, having diabetes, and being over the age of 55. 

While having a family history of stroke can increase your likelihood of having one, many of its main causes are preventable by eating properly, managing blood pressure, and reducing stress.

Alzheimer’s disease risk factors and Parkinson’s disease risk factors are less understood than strokes. While it’s possible to inherit faulty genes that can lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it’s usually rare to develop these diseases this way.

Research has tried to connect Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to specific environmental risks, like exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and pollution, but the results have been inconclusive. 

However, having a low socioeconomic status can shift the onset curve by ten years.

How Seniors and Older Adults Can Prevent these Diseases

There is no single medication available that can prevent these diseases from developing. However, case studies are currently testing whether or not monoclonal antibodies can remove plaque build ups in the brain.

For now, the best way to combat the onset of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and strokes is to maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle.

Managing stress and maintaining a healthy blood pressure is the first priority for all seniors in keeping their hearts and brains in good shape. 

Maintaining regular social connections with friends and family is also incredibly important to stimulate the brain and form a neural reserve of new memories that can fight against brain atrophy.

Getting quality sleep every night is important for regulating hormones and mood. In fact, getting too little sleep increases the odds of protein buildups in the brain, and can lead to dementia quicker.

Alzheimer’s disease, in particular, causes inflammation and insulin resistance to destroy brain cells. Because of this, it’s sometimes called “diabetes of the brain.” 

There is a strong link between metabolic disorders and brain function disorders. To fight against this, seniors need to manage their weight, cut back on sugar, eat more fruits and vegetables, and watch their salt levels, which cause high blood pressure.

Learn More About Kensington Park Senior Living’s Memory Care Community 

Kensington Park is an enhanced independent living, assisted living, and memory care community located in Kensington, Maryland.

Our community is designed to be a home for seniors who require care on many different levels, whether they have Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, or have had strokes.

Our team’s tenure and expertise allows us to offer a full spectrum of clinical support not seen in traditional assisted living communities. This means we can accommodate and care for all of our residents, even if their healthcare needs change.

We offer on-site rehabilitation, a staff of licensed nurses who work 24/7, all-day dining services, a busy event calendar of life enrichment classes, and much more.

At Kensington Park, we take COVID-19 seriously. We are proud to be 100% vaccinated and following the CDC and local health departments’ protocols to maintain a COVID-safe environment.If your loved one recently experienced a stroke or is dealing with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, we encourage you to reach out to us. Come by for a visit to experience Our Promise “to love and care for your family as we do our own.”

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