BY JAMIE LOBER
THERE MIGHT BE STEPS TO PREVENTING ALZHEIMER’S ON THE HORIZON. . .
BUT THERE ARE PROVEN BRAIN BOOSTERS NOW!
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive brain disorder that develops slowly over time. It is characterized mainly by memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It was first described in 1906 by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer, who observed the pathological hallmarks of the disease—abnormal clumps of protein (beta-amyloid plaques) and tangled bundles of protein fibers (neurofibrillary tangles)—in the brain of a female patient who had experienced memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. Little more is known about it today in spite of vigorous research. Still more research is needed to define risk factors for the disease and to study substances that have the potential to reduce the risk.
The Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center says that in the beginning of the disease, memory loss is mild; but as the disease progresses, memory loss gradually grows, and cognitive functions like decision-making and paying attention can be impaired. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million people have Alzheimer’s disease which amounts to 172 billion dollars in annual costs and 10.9 million unpaid caregivers.
How is it diagnosed
The Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center says that diagnosis is made after several evaluations. First, a history is taken regarding the onset of symptoms. Afterwards, cognitive tests are administered which can last for several hours. Blood work is done to look for possible reasons for the cognitive changes such as metabolic or hormonal problems. An MRI, CT, or PET scan is done to try and identify structural changes in the brain such as a stroke that may have caused the changes. Once the neurologist has reviewed all of the findings, he or she can make a determination about the cause of the memory loss. In short, the disease is diagnosed by determining patterns of memory loss by well-skilled physicians.
“Alzheimer’s is not to blame for all memory loss; some can be caused by vascular problems or a loss of neuron function,” says Dr. Michael Rozien, Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic. “Here’s a quick self-diagnostic test to help detect the first signs of Alzheimer’s:
Give Gramps a seven-digit phone number to remember. People with any kind of memory loss may have trouble remembering the whole thing immediately, but that’s not the test. After 5 minutes, both may remember zero to four numbers. But now give them three different phone numbers, including the original. The person with Alzheimer’s won’t recognize the original phone number; others will.” Editor’s Note: This is only a home tool that might determine if you should have your loved one tested for Alzheimer’s.
The new non-invasive Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan has been found to detect Alzheimer’s before the symptoms set in. It can show the brain’s biological changes attributable to Alzheimer’s disease before any other diagnostic test. It can also distinguish it from other forms of dementia.
Give your brain a boost
According to the New York Presbyterian Hospital, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. While it appears that inflammatory processes within the body definitely have a role in Alzheimer’s, much research is still to be done before we have definitive answer as to whether these medications or any others can actually prevent Alzheimer’s. Nonetheless, as you age, it is important to focus on what you can do to give your brain a boost. Since both the cause and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease are unknown, we can only take steps to maintain alertness.
As you age, it is important to focus on what you can do to give your brain a boost. “The main thing is staying active,” says Karen Kinsler, director of development at the Alzheimer’s Association in Macon. The phrase, “Use it or lose it” definitely applies to this process, she says. Once you understand the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and learn what you can do to maintain your brain, you are on the road to better physical and mental health.
One recent study featured on WebMD by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation showed that people improved on memory tests after practicing meditation for eight weeks. They also had increased blood flow in the brain.
Strive to challenge yourself but still do things that you enjoy. Spending time with family and friends should be a priority to alleviate stress and maintain connections among brain cells. “Mentally-stimulating activities strengthen brain cells and the connections between them may even create new nerve cells,” said Kinsler. Crossword puzzles and word searches are two good brain boosters. “If you are right handed, use your left hand. Do something with your opposite hand to use your opposite brain power,” said Mott Smith, program director at the Alzheimer’s Association.
Pay attention to what you put in your body. “A low fat, low cholesterol diet is advisable as well as a diet rich in dark vegetables and fruits that contain antioxidants to protect the brain cells,” said Kinsler. Fitness goes hand in hand with nutrition. What is good for the heart is good for the brain, and a simple brisk walk can improve blood flow and promote new brain cells.
Despite doing all of the right things, some people end up with Alzheimer’s disease. “It is something that can happen to anybody,” said Kinsler. Though it is typically diagnosed in people who are sixty-five and older, younger people are affected as well. “The trend now is towards what we call early onset Alzheimer’s where people in their fifties and forties are getting Alzheimer’s,” said Kinsler. There is no rhyme or reason for this.
The disease affects an entire family so becoming educated and finding support is important. Encouraging children to spend time with the diagnosed family member can make a difference and teach them some great lessons. “Kids can reminisce with the person, talk with them and ask them what it was like when they were growing up,” said Smith. Honesty is the best policy. “Let your kid know what changes are about to happen and that it is okay if he feels upset, angry, sad or whatever emotion he feels about it,” said Smith.
Alzheimer’s disease is not an all-around gloomy topic. There is a program called Trial Match in which people with or without the disease can sign up to work with a research program that will offer insight to researchers looking for a cure.#