Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common and devastating neurodegenerative disorders. In the United States, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease approximately every 66 seconds.
After decades of research, scientists have identified many of the early signs and learned about how it affects the brain. Unfortunately, the actual cause of the disease remains unknown.
Recently, scientists have taken to studying other neurological conditions with similarities to Alzheimer’s. They hope to find links between similar conditions to shed some more light on how Alzheimer’s works.
Migraine headaches are one of the conditions in which researchers have found a possible link.
Keep reading to find out more about Alzheimer’s and migraines and how you can support a loved one dealing with memory loss.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
Before we get any further, let’s establish the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia is a general term encompassing many types of conditions that result in decreased brain function and/or memory loss. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Other conditions under this umbrella include Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and strokes.
While there is a possible link between Alzheimer’s and migraines, there isn’t a correlation to all types of dementia.
What Is a Migraine?
Headaches are the most common neurological disorder across all ages. There are many different types of headaches, and while all of them are painful, not all of them are migraines. So how can you tell if what you’re experiencing is actually a migraine?
For starters, a migraine is more than a headache—it’s a collection of several neurological symptoms. It may begin with a severe, sharp throbbing sensation on one or both sides of the head. Nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound may also occur.
Other symptoms include flashes of light, tingling or numbness in your face or limbs, and temporary vision loss or blind spots.
We still aren’t sure what causes migraines, but researchers now believe them to be a neurological disorder. They are likely related to faults in brain chemistry and nerve pathways.
No official genetic link has been established, but they do tend to run in families. Migraines may also be triggered by environmental causes.
Similarities Between Alzheimer’s and Migraines
Alzheimer’s and migraines are both thought to be related to brain chemistry and nerve pathways. As such, it makes sense that they would have some symptoms in common.
Most of the similarities between symptoms occur before and after a migraine attack, known as the pre-and post-drome stages. Pre- and post-drome symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- Difficulty focusing
- Forgetting recently learned information
- Mixing up words when speaking or reading
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Mood swings
- Loss of coordination
- Sensitivity to non-painful stimuli
These symptoms have a lot in common with the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
There are also similarities between comorbidities. People with Alzheimer’s and migraines are both more likely than average to suffer from conditions including:
- High blood pressure
The number of similar symptoms and comorbidities suggest that there may be a link between Alzheimer’s and migraines. But what does the research actually show?
The research into a link between Alzheimer’s and migraines provides somewhat conflicting information.
One of the first breakthroughs in this field of research was the discovery that chronic migraines can cause lesions on the brain. Scientists hypothesized that the damage from these lesions could lead to memory loss later in life. Further research determined that the damage wasn’t significant enough to cause a serious decline.
Another study screened 715 Canadian patients over age 65 for memory loss over time. All patients were determined “cognitively intact” at the beginning of the study. They provided a detailed history of their migraines.
After five years, the patients returned and were assessed for cognitive decline. The study determined that those who experienced migraines were four times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who didn’t.
Some researchers have also pointed out the correlation between female hormones and the two conditions. Women are 1.5 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than men. They’re also three times as likely to experience migraine headaches.
The correlation is thought to relate to ovarian hormones, which decline during menopause. Some of these hormones, especially estrogen, play an important role in regulating neurotransmitters. A hormone imbalance could then theoretically result in migraines and neurodegeneration.
While these studies are a great start, more research is needed to draw conclusive results.
Do Migraines Cause Alzheimer’s?
The above research shows that there may be a link between migraines and Alzheimer’s disease. Even so, it’s always important to remember that correlation doesn’t equal causation.
Don’t assume that struggling with migraines means you’ll develop Alzheimer’s later in life. Regardless, it may be wise to take steps to improve your overall brain health.
The number one doctors’ recommendation to prevent memory loss later in life is to exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. Other research shows that getting enough sleep, learning new things, and staying socially active can all be of benefit.
It’s impossible to guarantee that making the above lifestyle changes will protect you from Alzheimer’s. Be that as it may, they will help you to live a longer, healthier life and may even reduce your migraines in the process.
Caring for Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and migraines is a challenge, and no one should have to do it alone. That’s why Seasons Memory Care provides state-of-the-art community living for those with memory loss.
Even though their memories may fade, each of our clients is an individual with special interests, talents, and preferences. We take the time to learn about what makes each resident unique and take steps to help them feel comfortable, happy, and safe.
If you’d like to talk with someone about your options for long-term care, assisted living, or an Alzheimer’s support group, please contact us today. We’d love to talk with you about how we can help provide the best service and care for your family.