As we get older, the occasional episode of absent-mindedness inevitably starts becoming more frequent. From forgetting our phones in odd places to racking our brains over the name of the neighbor’s pet, memory lapses can be one of the most common, though often potentially dangerous, side effects of aging. A disease like Alzheimer’s creeps up on you slowly, leaving the patient and their close ones bewildered. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and is characterized by the accumulation of two types of proteins in the brain: tangles (tau) and plaques (amyloid-beta). The end result with Alzheimer’s is that it eventually kills brain cells and results in death.

What causes Alzheimer’s?

According to Dr. Gad Marshall, associate medical director of clinical trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, for 1 percent of all cases, there are three genes that determine definitively whether or not you will have Alzheimer’s, and all three are related to the amyloid-beta production. For the other 99 percent, he says, “There is no definite cause but many things may contribute to the development of symptoms, such as inflammation in the brain, vascular risk factors, and lifestyle.”

The onset of Alzheimer’s has typical symptoms such as frequent memory loss, confusion about locations, taking longer to accomplish normal daily tasks, trouble handling money and paying bills, loss of spontaneity, and mood and personality changes. Dr. Marshall says, “If you have a decline in your memory or thinking that affects your ability to perform any of your daily routines, ask your doctor for a screening to evaluate you for Alzheimer’s and related conditions.”

However, there is nothing to panic if you’ve forgotten where you parked your car. If this happens on more than one occasion, it can be disturbing and may lead you to worry that it’s a sign of something more serious. But there is a difference between normal age-related memory slips, such as forgetting where your car keys are, and there are more serious signs, such as forgetting what car keys are used for.

How can you prevent it?

Though we don’t have enough evidence whether healthy lifestyle changes can prevent Alzheimer’s, we do know that they can prevent other chronic conditions. The following infographic put together by Positive Health Wellness contains 5 simple yet practical things you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s from setting in early:

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