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Scary Days and Silver Linings: Handling Hereditary Risk Factors

I had a little scare recently — a minor one, but one that shook me a little. I was walking around my classroom. I teach computer classes and have a room full of Kindergarteners. They have A LOT of computer questions. The most southern-speaking little girl in the room said my name with the longest "a" I'd ever heard. I got up and walked over to help her with her headphones.

An unnerving and unusual experience

When I arrived back at my desk, I realized I hadn't flipped the date on my little retro metal calendar. I reached down to fix it, and the room went wonky. It was a split second, but everything looked like it stretched vertically. It was enough to make me step back then back forward. I felt a little woozy. Then it was over just as quickly as it had happened.

I caught up with one of our school nurses and had her check my blood pressure within the next half hour. Fast forward to me sitting in our on-site clinic yesterday afternoon waiting for our nurse practitioner. Naturally, I was asked about my family's medical history. I rattled off that Daddy had heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, diabetes, and dementia later on.

Does my family medical history increase my risk?

Today, I'm back on blood pressure medicine after spending the better part of a decade prescription medicine-free. And all I could think about all day was how many of those often hereditary factors I listed could affect me and the possibility of me developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease down the road.

The Mayo Clinic basically lists everything I had rattled off about Daddy's medical history as risk factors for vascular dementia. The list included increasing age, history of heart attack/strokes/ministrokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, and atrial fibrillation. He was the poster child. Not all of those things are passed down genetically, but family history, along with hand-me-down habits, account for some of what happens with our health.

Finding a silver lining in research

Another deep dive into some research left me clinging to a silver lining. A little light at the end of the tunnel, if you will. Maybe there was something positive to carry forward from my scary day.

A recent John Hopkins report confirmed that using the kind of sodium-sparing diuretics I had just been prescribed may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's greatly, while other high blood pressure medications may lower the risk by a lesser degree. The research suggests that if you do not have Alzheimer's and take these medications, your chances of developing dementia may be less. Also, these medications may lessen the progression of dementia in current Alzheimer's patients.

Small steps will make way for bigger strides

Of course, I have more work and research to do. The medicine will help, but I need to make some changes so I can try to carry on Daddy's legacy without retracing his footsteps down his rocky road of health problems. Reducing salt won't be easy for this southerner, but maybe a few small steps will make way for bigger strides in the future. Finding the silver linings won't hurt, either.

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