AboutAlz.com Ends Regular Run

It’s been three years since I began this blog. I started it as a way to seek answers for myself. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of dementia is staggering and the projected numbers are mind-boggling. Each year we are hopeful for the one miracle drug that will cure AD, but we have not reached our goal.

The untold number of hours that caregivers spend caring for their loved ones cannot be measured. It indeed takes a huge toll on their physical and mental health as well as their financial burden.

When I look at the visitor statistics for this blog, I know that other people are looking for answers as well. Although I am encouraged by the numbers to continue this blog, my situation has changed and I have accepted another challenge which requires that I devote some time to achieve success. I may return to writing this blog in the future, but I hope that it will not be necessary as we will have solved the problem and eliminated Alzheimer’s disease.

If I can summarize what we can all do at this point, it’s everything you would do to keep your immune system healthy such as:

  • Get adequate sleep every night.
  • Take enough Omega 3 and other necessary supplements. (Check with your health care provider).
  • Exercise as vigorously as you can.
  • Find enjoyment in life. Do things that you really love to do. Just because it’s been said that crossword puzzles are good for the brain, if you don’t enjoy it, why are you engaging in it?
  • Be grateful no matter what situation you are in. There’s a lesson to be learned in everything.

The Alzheimer’s organization is one source that has been very helpful in keeping us posted with the latest news and there are other sources that I’ve mention in this blog as well. Do check its Web site periodically. As I say good-bye for now, I thank you for your support.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research and the need for volunteers. I had heard nurse practitioner, Alice Brown, from Georgetown University Medical Center speak on Research in Alzheimer’s Disease: Hope for the Future. She is part of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown. There are many such programs across the country. Click here for a list of others. At Georgetown alone, there are at least seven research trials for which volunteers are needed. By volunteers, they mean everyone, including normal people. The trend in research is to identify people at risk for developing AD before they even show symptoms of the disease. AD does not develop overnight and pathology is present in the brain long before any signs or symptoms appear.

Alzheimer’s disease is the third most expensive disease in the US after cancer and cardiovascular disease and the fifth leading cause of death in those over 65. But not counted in the cost is the hours and hours of caregiver burden. We also know that age is the biggest factor in AD, but after that the major risk is a positive family history of the disease. Offspring of an individual with AD have a higher risk of getting AD as they age — about 30% compared to 10% of the general population of the same age.

Here is what current research is targeting:

  • Immune system — rid the body of toxic beta amyloid protein that form plaques (a known cause of AD)
    • Vaccines that allow the body to develop its own antibodies (active immunity)
    • Infusions that provide the body with antibodies within the infusion (passive immunity)
  • Brain repair — Nerve Growth Factor
    • Targets microglia — immune cells in the brain — to reproduce and repair the damage caused by beta amyloid
  • Inflammation — presumes inflammatory changes produce cell death and neuronal loss
  • Biomarkers – to help predict who may or may not develop AD and helps determine earlier targets for therapy
    • Cerebral spinal final (spinal tap — LP)
    • Imaging (MRI and PET)
  • Diabetes — questions regarding the role of insulin in brain function and metabolism

Brown stressed that the greatest barrier to progress in research is not enough volunteers and getting people to the location where the study is being conducted. If a study can’t recruit enough subjects or it takes a long time, then it will take longer to complete a trial and analyze results. Other problems are funding and the location of the study site.

For more information on the Georgetown program, check out this Web site — http://memory.georgetown.edu. In a future post, we will look at the exciting, new findings.

In three days, it will be 15 years since my father passed away. September also marks one year since I started this blog. It has opened my eyes (and my brain) to so many things. I’ve written about a variety of subjects, a number of them focused on research. Most recently, I got involved in a study at George Mason University (GMU). As a part of this study, I consented for them to do an MRI of my brain which they did last week. The anticipation of it all was more nerve-wracking than the procedure itself. The MRI machine at GMU is just for brain research and is smaller than the typical machine that is used for diagnosing other diseases and problems in hospitals and imaging centers.

Also last week, I went to a near-by assisted living facility where a nurse practitioner from Georgetown University Medical Center spoke on Research in Alzheimer’s Disease: Hope for the Future. Her talk will be the topic of another blog post, but one of the main difficulties that research studies are facing is the lack of participants. There are many research studies going on across the country. In a previous post on research, I mentioned a government Web site where you can look at some clinical studies recruiting for volunteers. Even the study that I’m in at George Mason University is looking for more subjects. Send me an e-mail for more information — info@aboutalz.com.

So if you’ve ever wondered if Alzheimer’s disease research needs volunteers, the answer is a resounding yes! It will not cost you anything except your time. You will be contributing toward understanding the staggering fact that every 70 seconds, a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and with our aging population, the numbers will continue to rise. We must do all that we can to stop this and help find a cure!

Last spring the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reported that for males, by delaying retirement, the age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was also delayed. On average, each additional year of work staved off Alzheimer’s disease by seven weeks.

Not known are questions such as:

  • Did retirement somehow bring on the disease?
  • Are people who are at risk for Alzheimer’s unlikely to keep working?

The researchers speculate that employment challenges may help to keep the mind healthy and agile as one ages. For many people, it’s a financial necessity to keep working, but it might prove to be a great benefit to the brain. Click here to read the abstract of the study.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is:

  • responsible for $172 billion in annual costs in the United States
  • the seventh leading cause of death in America
  • not limited to the elderly, with people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s developing the disease
  • currently affecting more than 5 million Americans, resulting in 11 million Alzheimer and dementia caregivers who provide $144 billion in unpaid care for their loved ones
  • a disease someone in America develops every 70 seconds and by mid-century someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.

The statistics are staggering. If a person enjoys work, then by all means it might be a good way to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, if one does not enjoy working or if it is too stressful, then delaying retirement would not be a good option. There are so many things that one can do in retirement to continue to stimulate the brain.

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10 Ways to Maintain Your Brain

The Alzheimer’s Association has a booklet called, Maintain Your Brain, and subtitled — there is growing evidence that lifestyle can affect your brain health. You can obtain this 16-page online booklet by clicking here. If you want a quick summary, the 10 ways to maintain your brain discussed are:

  1. Head first
    Good health starts with your brain. It’s one of the most vital body organs, and it needs care and maintenance.
  2. Take brain health to heart
    What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Do something every day to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke — all of which can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.
  3. Your numbers count
    Keep your body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels within recommended ranges.
  4. Feed your brain
    Eat less fat and more antioxidant-rich foods.
  5. Work your body
    Physical exercise keeps the blood flowing and may encourage new brain cells. Do what you can — like walking 30 minutes a day — to keep both body and mind active.
  6. Jog your mind
    Keeping your brain active and engaged increases its vitality and builds reserves of brain cells and connections. Read, write, play games, learn new things, do crossword puzzles.
  7. Connect with others
    Leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social elements may be most likely to prevent dementia. Be social, converse, volunteer, join a club or take a class.
  8. Heads up! Protect your brain
    Take precautions against head injuries. Use your car seat belts, unclutter your house to avoid falls, and wear a helmet when cycling or in-line skating.
  9. Use your head
    Avoid unhealthy habits. Don’t smoke, drink excessive alcohol or use street drugs.
  10. Think ahead — start today!
    You can do something today to protect your tomorrow.
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Here are two evils — Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Which would you choose? Of course, neither. I recently read something that said if you have Alzheimer’s you’re not likely to get cancer and vice versa, if you get cancer, you’re not likely to get Alzheimer’s. So that got me researching — is Alzheimer’s disease protection for cancer?

In December 2009, Neurology published a report by Dr. Catherine M. Roe of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis which stated that understanding the link between Alzheimer’s disease and cancer may lead to possible treatments.

Roe and her team studied 3,020 people aged 65 and older. They were followed for an average of five years to see if they developed dementia and an average of eight years for cancer. Here is how the study started:

  • 164 (5.4%) had Alzheimer’s disease
  • 522 (17.3%) had cancer

Here is what they found:

For people who had Alzheimer’s disease at the outset, the risk of future cancer was reduced by 69 percent compared to those who did not have Alzheimer’s disease when the study started.

For white people who had cancer when the study started, their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was reduced by 43 percent compared to people who did not have cancer at the start of the study.

This effect, however, did not apply to minority populations. In fact, the opposite effect was observed in minority populations — those who started out with cancer at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. However, the sample size of minorities starting off with cancer (29 individuals) was too small for the result to be considered significant.

Overall, the results of this study support previous findings that cancer and brain degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease may share common molecular underpinnings. However, Roe noted in an email to Reuters Health, “Since we found no associations between vascular dementia and cancer, we don’t think that cancer is linked to dementia generally.”

Vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, is caused by clogged blood vessels and other conditions affecting the blood supply to the brain. Based on the current study, only the degenerative form of dementia, and not the form caused by lack of blood to the brain, appears to be somehow protective against cancer.

To read the full article, click here.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Take the Alzheimer's Association's Brain Tour

Brain Tour from Alzheimer's Association (click image)

Just what is Alzheimer’s disease (AD)? Everyone seems to agree that it is the most common form of dementia accounting for at least half of all dementia cases. (See previous post on discussion of dementia). There is also agreement that in advanced Alzheimer’s disease, a person cannot function intellectually and socially. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging, but the risk of the disorder increases with age. About 5 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have Alzheimer’s disease, while nearly half the people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s.”

What is happening in the brain that is causing a person not to be able to function intellectually and socially? Take the “Brain Tour” on the left and notice the shrinkage of the brain as well as the tangles. Just looking at those pictures explains the confusion, doesn’t it?

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are currently three major areas that doctors depend on to make a diagnosis:

  1. Lab tests
  2. Neuropsychological testing (extensive assessment of thinking and memory skills)
  3. Brain scans
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • Computerized tomography (CT)
    • Positron emission tomography (PET)

Although memory assessments should always be conducted by a medical practitioner, here are two quick paper and pencil tests. The first was published by Times Online (UK) called the “Five Minute Alzheimer’s Test.” The second one is on the Web site of a well-known Alzheimer’s drug, but it states, “This screening tool cannot be used to tell if your loved one has a medical problem, only whether he or she should be tested.” It was adapted from Galvin JE, et al. The AD8, a brief informant interview to detect dementia. Neurology 2005:65:559-564.

Once again, do not draw any conclusions from these memory tests. As discussed by Carrie Hill, Ph.D. in “What you Need to Know about Screenings for Memory Problems,” she states:

  1. A memory screening should not be used to make a diagnosis
  2. A memory screening does not replace a diagnostic workup
  3. Memory screenings should only be performed by qualified professionals
  4. Memory screenings should be confidential and provide follow-up resources
  5. Memory screenings can be used to establish a baseline
  6. Opinions differ on the value of memory screenings. Here she talks about the different views of the two leading non-profit Alzheimer’s organizations — Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and Alzheimer’s Association.

In our next blog post next week, we will look at the most recent diagnosis tools. In the meantime, have you done your Sudoku for today?

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