The number of people living with dementia is expected to surpass 130 million by 2050. This could bring the total number of cases in the UK to two million. Although the condition can’t be reversed, picking up the early warning signs early could allow for better preparation. Experts have now identified a new potential factor that may precede brain decline by up to two decades.
A new study, published in the Lancet, has identified constipation as one of the earliest factors to signal the onset of cognitive decline, appearing years in advance.
Other conditions associated with a later diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease may include anxiety, constipation, abnormal weight loss, reaction to severe stress, hearing loss, sleep disorders and cervical spondylosis (a type of arthritis), according to the study.
Katy Bray, Ph.D, told Medical News Today: “Diseases like Alzheimer’s can begin in the brain up to two decades before symptoms start to show.
“It is difficult to know how these conditions may contribute to the development of the disease or if they could also be very early symptoms.”
The researchers analysed health records of a cohort of more than 20,000 patients with Alzheimer’s disease in the UK and more than 19,000 patients with the disease in France.
Some of the aforementioned conditions had already been recognised as risk factors for dementia; namely hearing loss, depression and sleep disorders.
But never has constipation been identified as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease before.
One of the first authors of the study, Thomas Nedelec, noted: “The connections made allowed us to confirm known associations, such as hearing problems, or depression, and other less-known factors or early symptoms, such as cervical spondylosis or constipation.
“The question remains as to whether the health problems encountered are risk factors, symptoms, or warning signs of the disease.”
The study authors concluded their paper with the following statement: “Our findings make it possible to model the possible trajectories of risk factors in the period preceding the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, providing new insights into possible windows for prevention.”
Common causes for constipation include a lack of dietary fibre in one’s diet, as well as insufficient fluid intake or reduced mobility.
How to avoid Alzheimer’s disease
The risk of cognitive decline rises sharply with age, but researchers believe some habits could delay this cognitive deterioration.
Low-grade inflammation in the body is a key contributor to disease, but fortunately, exercise can counter this.
Working out targets the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that regulates decision-making and personality.
But it also triggers the production of new brain cells in the hippocampus, thereby increasing its volume and preserving memory.
Cognitive activities can also make a marked difference in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.