I had an appointment for a regular dental check-up scheduled for this past week which I cancelled. It seemed to me as if an hour in the dentist’s chair wasn’t the best place to be during a raging pandemic. I haven’t been having any problems with my teeth or gums which I have noticed and the change of lifestyle dictated by Covid-19 has, if relevant at all to my teeth, has made me more attentive to self care.
Still, there’s some risk in skipping a check up, and it doesn’t only relate to dental health. It turns out, that there may be a connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s has been around for some time, in recent years the rate at which people are developing the disease has increased dramatically. Today, it seems as though just about everyone knows someone who is impacted by the disease, either because they are a sufferer or a caretaker.
At Clarity Legal Group, a big part of our practice is helping clients and families with the challenges of cognitive decline, including as a result of Alzheimer’s Disease. As attorneys, our work may include putting into place planning to preserve the dignity of those suffering from the decline, ensuring the health care plans have been established and communicated as needed, and putting into place the legal tools necessary to protect the suffering person, the family, and in some cases their assets.
It is always frustrating that we are helping on the edges of what can be a really devastating disease. Medical professionals and scientists have been searching for causes, treatments, and ultimately a cure for Alzheimer’s for decades. Maybe understanding this link between gum disease and the development of Alzheimer’s will contribute to slowing the increase in the number of people who develop the disease. For me, it is a wake up that overall health is important, and not just for the most obvious reasons.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex. Unlike many other diseases, such as AIDS, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s has a single cause. Instead, they believe the disease is multi-faceted with a number of factors influencing the development of the disease. The complexity of the disease makes finding a cure, and even effective treatment for those suffering from the disease, more difficult. While there are some medications on the market now that help slow the cognitive decline that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s for some people, we are short of finding a truly effective treatment regime, much less a cure.
Alzheimer’s By the Numbers
Given the exposure Alzheimer’s gets in the media it is all but impossible to ignore the prevalence of the disease; however, the following statistics tell the shocking story of just how serious the problem is, and is expected to be, in the United States:
- An estimated 7 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s, up from 5 million in 2017.
- By 2050, an estimated 14 million people will be living with Alzheimer’s
- Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
- One in 10 people age 65 and older (10 percent) has Alzheimer’s dementia.
- 1 million people provide unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in America
- Between 2000 and 2015, deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 123 percent
- Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds
- By 2050, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds.
Is Gum Disease a Catalyst for Developing Alzheimer’s?
A recent article reported by the National Institute of Aging discusses a potential link between gum disease and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. According to data from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 8.52 percent of adults between 20 and 64 years of age in the United States have periodontitis (gum disease). Gum disease has long had the potential to lead to negative outcomes, from tooth loss to an increased risk of cancer. This emerging evidence suggests that one of the bacteria involved in periodontitis could also contribute to the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain, which scientists have associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
“The analysis revealed that older adults with signs of gum disease and mouth infections at baseline were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s during the study period. Among those 65 years or older, both Alzheimer’s diagnoses and deaths were associated with antibodies against the oral bacterium P. gingivalis, which can cluster with other bacteria such as Campylobacter rectus and Prevotella melaninogenica to further increase those risks.”
This kind of connection is an eye opener. It’s a reminder that overall health and well being can make a difference even in unexpected ways. Maybe I should go to the dentist even in the middle of a pandemic.
Contact a Chapel Hill Elder Law Attorney
If you have questions or concerns relating to issues that impact health care planning, aging or relating asset protection concerns, please contact a Chapel Hill elder law attorney at Clarity Legal Group® by calling us at 919-484-0012 or contact us online.
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