Bob DeMarco Alzheimer's Reading Room

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lifestyle changes can prevent Alzheimer's, doctor says


Isn't Alzheimer's disease inevitable in old age?



Lifestyle changes can prevent Alzheimer's, doctor says

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh is a geriatric neurologist, director of Sun Health Research Institute's Cleo Roberts Center for Clinical Research, and the author of the new book The Alzheimer's Answer. For more information, visit Sun Health.

Question: Isn't Alzheimer's disease inevitable in old age?

Answer: No, Alzheimer's is a brain disease. It is not normal aging. What begins as benign forgetfulness ends by ultimately ravaging the entire mind. By the time an individual begins to show symptoms of Alzheimer's, the disease has possibly progressed too far to change the outcome.

Research has shown that Alzheimer's actually begins to develop 20 to 30 years before the first moment of forgetfulness. The time to take preventive steps is now.

Q: What can I do to prevent Alzheimer's disease?

A: Preventing Alzheimer's disease is an achievable goal, and can be accomplished by embracing a healthful lifestyle that benefits your entire body.

Numerous studies tie a healthy heart to a healthy brain. Incorporating 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise into your daily activities may help to lower your risk of Alzheimer's.

Exercising your brain is important, too. Studies have shown mental activities such as crossword puzzles, reading and creating art may help to delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Also, diet plays a big role. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries and spinach, have been shown to boost cognitive power.

Q: What about vitamins or supplements?

A: Certain vitamins may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Folic acid, for example, seems to have a protective cognitive effect. Clinical trials continue to examine the links between Alzheimer's and other vitamins, such as B and E. Omega-3 fatty acids high in DHA, found naturally in certain types of fish, are also available as a supplement and have been shown in studies to have a protective effect against Alzheimer's. Ask your doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements, as some may interact with medication you're already taking.

Q: Is a cure for Alzheimer's in our future?

A: Unless science intervenes, we can expect the number of people with Alzheimer's to increase to nearly 16 million Americans over the next two generations. That's why prevention plays such a key role. Americans have the power to impact the rate at which this disease progresses. From every angle, the work of delaying Alzheimer's symptoms through lifestyle, diet, environment and health maintenance remains the most financially and medically sound avenue for now. Doing so will buy us time to fill in the gaps in what we know about Alzheimer's pathology and allow us time to improve available and new treatment methods. We are in an unprecedented era of scientific discovery and I am optimistic about the fight against Alzheimer's. We are now able to create better treatments that are focused on real interventions and real strategies to stop the disease. I believe in our lifetime that Alzheimer's disease will come to be seen not as a terminal disease, but a chronic one that can be managed, monitored and stabilized.