<h1>In 2017, more than 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer\u2019s with nearly 40,000 West Virginians suffering from this disease. By the year 2050, it\u2019s estimated that number may be as high as 16 million, and anyone with a brain is at potential risk.<\/h1>\r\nAlzheimer\u2019s is the most common form of dementia, and is a disease that is often misunderstood. The month of June has been designated as Alzheimer\u2019s & Brain Awareness Month, encouraging Americans to \u2018Go Purple\u2019 for better awareness and an eventual cure for this deadly disease.\r\n\r\nEach year, Alzheimer\u2019s kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. A person can live with the disease anywhere from a few years to a few decades, but the average patient lives with Alzheimer\u2019s for about 9 years. Approximately 1 in 8 U.S. adults over the age of 65 has the disease, and women are more likely than men to be affected. There is currently no cure.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhile Alzheimer\u2019s most often affects adults over the age of 65, it is not a normal part of aging,\u201d said Dr. Nathaniel Kesner, hospitalist director at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center. \u201cIt is a progressive brain disease that causes brain tissue to break down over time and eventually results in symptoms beyond just memory loss. While there is a tremendous amount of research happening around the world, we still don\u2019t know why one person at average risk gets the disease and another doesn\u2019t.\u201d\r\n\r\nResearchers do know that the symptoms caused by Alzheimer\u2019s appear to come from two types of nerve damage. The first type is called neurofibrillary tangles, or a tangling of the brain\u2019s nerve cells. The second type is called beta-amyloid plaque, or the build-up of protein deposits in the brain. Regardless of the type of nerve damage, it\u2019s almost certain that genetics play a role - if your parent had Alzheimer\u2019s disease, you are at significantly higher risk.\r\n\r\nThere are some steps that you can take to delay or avoid dementia from any cause, agreed on by virtually all medical experts.\r\n<ol>\r\n \t<li>Hit the books. Formalized learning at any stage of life helps reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia of all types. Take a class at a local college or online. If you can\u2019t engage in formal learning, take up crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or participate in a book group.<\/li>\r\n \t<li>Stop smoking. The evidence is clear. Among other things, smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline.<\/li>\r\n \t<li>Listen to your heart. Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes - are deemed to be driving the increases in Alzheimer\u2019s. Recent research shows an even clearer line between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer\u2019s. Get your blood sugars in line and protect your heart, to protect your brain.<\/li>\r\n \t<li>Helmets on. Research shows a clear line between the incidence of brain injury and the eventual onset of dementia. Exercise and movement are critical to brain and body health. Roller skating? Great! But wear a helmet, and take general steps daily to protect your head.<\/li>\r\n \t<li>Choose high-grade fuels. Eat a healthy diet full of quality fruits, vegetables and healthy fats to ensure your brain gets what it needs.<\/li>\r\n \t<li>Get quality ZZZZ\u2019s. Regularly failing to get 7-8 hours of good sleep, or suffering from insomnia or sleep apnea, is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer\u2019s.<\/li>\r\n \t<li>Protect your mental health. There are some indications that a history of depression or anxiety can lead to early cognitive decline. Take steps to manage stress, and work with a qualified physician to address any mental health concerns.<\/li>\r\n \t<li>Be a butterfly. A social butterfly, that is. Staying socially engaged and happy is an indicator of both longevity and brain health. Volunteer, get a pet, or find a group of like-minded friends to learn and laugh with.<\/li>\r\n<\/ol>\r\nThe most common early symptom of Alzheimer\u2019s is difficulty remembering newly learned information, because the disease\u2019s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As the condition progresses, the patient may experience disorientation, mood and behavior changes, difficulty speaking, and even suspicion of family and friends. Early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving regularly and rapidly, so it\u2019s important to involve your physician as soon as possible when a loved one displays symptoms.\r\n\r\nFree caregiver support and resources are available through the WV Chapter of the Alzheimer\u2019s Association, including a 24\/7 Helpline and local monthly support groups. For more information, call 800-272-3900 or visit alz.org\/wv. You can also learn more by participating in the Greenbrier Valley Walk to End Alzheimer\u2019s on Saturday, Sept. 30, at the New River Community and Technical College Lawn. To register, visit alz.org\/walk.