Can lifestyle changes prevent Alzheimer's disease?
Bronwen Zilmer has three generations of Alzheimer's disease in her family. She hopes not to be the fourth.
Her great-grandmother and grandmother had Alzheimer's disease. Her father's illness was diagnosed at 56, and he died at 63. She's now 35.
After her father's death, the Highland Village, Texas, resident and mother of two began running half marathons, taking fish-oil supplements and eating more fish in hopes of avoiding the memory-robbing illness.
"People are desperate to avoid it and desperate to find some kind of treatment or cure," she says. "If somebody told me, 'Do these 10 things and I'll assure you that you won't get Alzheimer's disease,' I would do it."
Researchers agree that the causes of Alzheimer's have some genetic links, but they aren't sure exactly what causes the disease or how it progresses. Although a growing number of studies examine how lifestyle choices may affect a person's risk of Alzheimer's, medical professionals disagree over the strength of the evidence.
A National Institutes of Health independent consensus panel rejected a definitive scientific link between lifestyle habits and risk reduction in a 2010 report that said the amount of evidence and its quality was low. The panel called for more large-scale, randomized studies.
"Currently, firm conclusions cannot be drawn about the association of any modifiable risk factor with cognitive decline or Alzheimer's disease," the report said.
That hasn't kept Americans from taking up brain teasers or buying supplements in the hopes of staving off the disease.
Some books, such as "The Alzheimer's Prevention Program" by Dr. Gary Small of the UCLA Longevity Center, promote a proactive approach, much like exercise or diet programs. The book includes a seven-day regimen of foods to eat and mental and physical exercises to do.
"It's a weak argument to say, 'I'm going to wait here until we have conclusive proof,' while we have so much compelling evidence already," Small said in an interview.
"We are not saying you can guarantee you'll never get Alzheimer's disease," he says, "but what we're saying is there is a possibility that we can delay the onset of symptoms through the healthy lifestyle approach."
Dr. Bill Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer's Association, a nonprofit organization and a large funder of research, says some basic health habits are associated with lower risk.
Physical exercise and good vascular health have the most scientific evidence as possible Alzheimer's fighters - and they come with the added perk of lowering risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
A diet that's lower in fats and higher in vegetables seems to be preferable, but little is known about an Alzheimer's link to specific foods or whether there is one.
Thies cautions against adopting a specific diet or regimen: "The more prescriptive the books, the less it's supported by scientific research."
"The weakest data exists around mental activity itself," Thies says. Instead of doing solitary activities like crosswords or Sudoku, he suggests staying socially active and connected, which may keep the brain humming late in life.
Dr. David Knopman, a medical doctor and professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., echoes the view. He says people should strive for a lifetime of brain-healthy habits rather than seek out a quick fix later in life.
"Going out and spending hundreds of dollars on some computer program that claims to improve your mind is probably not a very good investment," he says. Instead, he suggests reading books, joining a club or doing other activities that keep a person connected.
While researchers look for answers, Zilmer has added healthy activities to her daily routine.
"I am going to exercise and eat healthy, and if that gives me more time without Alzheimer's, then perfect," she says.
She can't help but examine her father's life for clues, but it's also difficult for her to identify any lifestyle choice that could have increased his chances. He exercised, ate healthy and held down a good job.
"I could guess all day," she said. In the end, it was probably just genetics.
REDUCE YOUR RISK OF ALZHEIMER'S
While experts don't agree on the links between lifestyle factors and diagnosis, there are some habits that have been associated with risk reduction. The Alzheimer's Association recommends these strategies:
Stay physically active. Exercise helps keep blood pumping to the brain and wards off heart disease, diabetes and stroke - other risk factors for Alzheimer's.
Eat a brain-healthy diet. Fill your meals with low-cholesterol, low-fat foods - especially fruits and vegetables.
Stay connected to others. Being social may help the brain cells by reducing stress.
Stay mentally active. Challenging your brain daily can strengthen existing brain connections and build new ones.
(c)2012 The Dallas Morning News
Distributed by MCT Information Services
- Can you prevent Alzheimer's disease by doing crossword puzzles? Nov 16, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- New risk factors discovered for Alzheimer's disease Jul 06, 2007 | not rated yet | 0
- Study reveals link between high cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease Sep 12, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Active lifestyle associated with less Alzheimer disease-related brain change among persons with APOE epsilon4 genotype Jan 16, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Vascular changes linked to dementia Jul 21, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Calculating on-axis elements of a solenoid
12 hours ago I wanted to mention that this solenoid has many winds over many layers. The thickness of the windings is 2.4 inches coming off of the engineering...
latitude & longitude & air pressure
14 hours ago Hi there, I have a peculiar question. Imagine that you are in a earth position, obtained by google, that gives you the latitude and longitude....
Differences of Classical Mechanics when learned with Calc vs algebra?
17 hours ago what are the differences? Every example I find usually has a derivative or integral or some kind of calculus defined concept that seems to make it...
what is the distance traveled
21 hours ago A rough sketch of experiment. Image: http://i43.tinypic.com/14t4sk5.png the red dots represent a side view of path traveled, F is downward force...
Image of a Convex Lens Cut in Half Horizontally
May 22, 2013 Hello everyone, A friend of mine came up with this question in class and I really do not have a good answer. Suppose you have a convex lens...
Ray tracing through optical system of thick lenses
May 22, 2013 Can you advise me a free software that allow to draw rays passed throught system of thick lenses (preferable in 3D)?
- More from Physics Forums - Classical Physics
More news stories
Researchers at USC have found that a class of pharmaceuticals can both prevent and treat Alzheimer's Disease in mice.
Alzheimer's disease & dementia May 21, 2013 | 5 / 5 (7) | 0 |
Researchers have pinpointed a catalytic trigger for the onset of Alzheimer's disease – when the fundamental structure of a protein molecule changes to cause a chain reaction that leads to the death of neurons ...
Alzheimer's disease & dementia May 20, 2013 | 5 / 5 (4) | 0 |
A new study looking at sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and markers for Alzheimer's disease (AD) risk in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and neuroimaging adds to the growing body of research linking the two.
Alzheimer's disease & dementia May 19, 2013 | 5 / 5 (3) | 0 |
The devastating effect of Alzheimer's disease on bilingual people has been thrown into focus in Canada, where the sudden loss of a second language can leave sufferers feeling like strangers in their own country.
Alzheimer's disease & dementia May 19, 2013 | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Working with lab mice models of multiple sclerosis (MS), UC Davis scientists have detected a novel molecular target for the design of drugs that could be safer and more effective than current FDA-approved ...
Alzheimer's disease & dementia May 17, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists from the Joint Center for Structural Genomics (JCSG) at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have determined the 3-D structure of the chemically active part of an enzyme involved ...
55 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—Research by U of T Mississauga psychology professor Glenn Schellenberg reveals that two key personality traits – openness-to-experience and conscientiousness—predict better than IQ ...
35 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Professor Michael Jennings, Deputy Director of the Institute for Glycomics at Griffith University, was part of an international team that discovered the previously unknown pathway of how the bacterium colonizes people.
13 minutes ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
Scientists at Newcastle University have shed new light on how the brain tunes in to relevant information.
10 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Aggressive forms of bladder cancer involve the protein PODXL – a discovery that could hold the key to improved treatment, according to researchers at Lund University, Uppsala University and KTH in Sweden.
45 minutes ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
Parents naturally are concerned for their children's safety, particularly when there is news of a child abduction that happens close to home. Finding the balance between emotions and the "teachable moment" as parents talk ...
1 hour ago | not rated yet | 0