A means to prevent Alzheimer’s disease is not in the near future, but a variety of diagnostic and treatment strategies can improve quality of life by delaying the onset of symptoms, according to medical experts speaking at an Argentum Memory Care Symposium at the National Press Club.
Current research largely focuses on treatments to dissolve a plaque buildup in the brain believed to spur the onset of Alzheimer’s, but lifestyle choices also can affect the growth of the disease, according to Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.
The old adage in real estate is that it’s all about location, location, location. Dr. Small said with Alzheimer’s treatment it’s all about “timing, timing, timing,” meaning when a person experiencing Alzheimer’s undergoes a certain treatment greatly affects the results. “Genetics account for only part of the risk for dementia,” he said, adding that there are non-genetic factors such as physical conditioning and mental stimulation that can reduce or delay onset of the disease.
“Physical exercise is probably the most important lifestyle intervention,” he said. “Anything you can do to get oxygen to your brain” can help increase the volume of the hippocampus, a portion of the brain responsible for memory.
He also noted that reducing chronic stress improves brain function while diabetes doubles the risk for triggering Alzheimer’s. His research team at UCLA is also studying the effect of natural anti-inflammatories on the brain such as curcumin (found in the spice turmeric) and pomegranate extract. General information on how to get involved in an Alzheimer’s clinical trial can be found online at the National Institute on Aging’s website.
Dr. Marie Bernard, the National Institute on Aging’s deputy director, said government-funded research is trying to get a better understanding of how genes work that hold keys to the development of Alzheimer’s. She lauded new technologies that can help research the diagnosis long before an individual with Alzheimer’s dies. Dr. Bernard echoed Dr. Small’s comments about the importance of exercise in staving off or curbing dementia and also cited the SYNAPSE study showing that involvement in something requiring a new skill can be “cognitively beneficial.”
Dr. Bernard said there is a “move afoot” to get more harmonization of studies in response to a question from Argentum COO Maribeth Bersani on how the senior living industry could get more cohesive information about the many different and varied studies on dementias being conducted by the government. Bernard noted that it’s not really feasible to do a large, randomized controlled trial, but “we need to find answers through pragmatic trials” such as looking at people through health care systems.
Joshua Weiner with RTI International, a nonprofit research center assisting the long-term care providers survey released by a branch of the Centers for Disease Control, has been working to develop a catalog of dementia care programs. He said there’s an initiative underway funded by the government to develop a research agenda for care and services for people with dementia and their caregivers.
He also cited four innovative programs and places related to brain research and practice: Comfort Matters in Phoenix, the Healthy Aging Brain Center in Indianapolis, MIND at Home in Baltimore and RCI Reach in Georgia.