Alzheimer’s Disease – Part 2
by Monte Schwartz
“There is nothing more painful than grieving someone who is still living.”
Isn’t that the crux of it all? Doesn’t that sum up so much of the heartache? Ultimately, losing connection with the people we love is what Alzheimer’s disease is all about and what makes it so painful.
In last month’s article, we summarized a few of the remarks from a workshop hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association and will explore a few more of the themes from that workshop this month.
To recap, part of what we discussed was the nature and scope of the disease. The sheer numbers we are facing as a society in terms of both cost and the numbers of those afflicted are staggering. Moreover, current medications are inadequate at best—only temporarily improving symptoms in about half of the people who take them.
That all makes for a pretty dark cloud. Silver linings? Not as bright as we would like them to be but some were offered nonetheless. Keith Fargo, PhD, Director of Scientific Programs for the Alzheimer’s Association, believes we will see progress when we get serious as a society, as we have with other diseases.
One tool that Dr. Fargo mentioned that has the potential to provide hope in the future is Amyloid PET Imaging. These scans allow clinicians to get an accurate picture of amyloid plaque accumulation within a person’s brain. While not a guarantee of developing the disease, amyloid plaques are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.
So what is the upshot of all of that? Simply this: amyloid typically builds up 15-20 years before dementia symptoms manifest themselves, and the best time to intervene with a therapy is when plaque formation is just beginning. Accurate scans would allow practitioners and patients alike to have greater confidence in the diagnosis and subsequent course of treatment. Dr. Noble likens it to high cholesterol and heart disease. Just as cholesterol-lowering drugs are prescribed as a precaution, an anti-amyloid treatment could be started when amyloid is detected.
Perhaps even more intriguing were the comments made by Jerry Schroeder, Senior Program Specialist for the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Iowa Chapter, during his presentation entitled “What Do We Know About Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease?” As he stated, no one can be sure (yet) that they won’t get Alzheimer’s. However, reducing your risk might be possible.
Mr. Schroeder noted that three things contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s. The first, genetics, is the smallest contributing factor. The second is the environment and possible environmental triggers. The third is the way we live our lives. Significantly, that last one is the one variable that we have some control over.
He then went through several items that increase or decrease the risk of dementia such as brain injury, education, and hypertension. Finally, he mentioned that doing a combination of things would be most promising in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. These include regular exercise, a healthy diet, mental stimulation, stress management, quality sleep, and an active social life.
As an article posted on the Harvard Health Publications website notes, “Even though we don’t have enough evidence that all healthy lifestyle choices prevent Alzheimer’s, we do know they can prevent other chronic problems.” Dr. Gad Marshall, from the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, further points out, “They’re all beneficial, and if they help you avoid Alzheimer’s, all the better.”
For more information, not to mention a great resource in general, contact the Alzheimer’s Association. And regardless of whatever treatments may or may not materialize, keep the faith and bear the following in mind when it comes to your loved ones who might be suffering from the disease: “Remember, the dementia patient is not giving you a hard time. The dementia patient is having a hard time.”