Taking the fight to Alzheimer’s

“Although Alzheimer’s patients forget us, we as a society must remember them.”

— Scott Kirschenbaum, filmmaker

Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating neurological condition that was described by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906 when he analyzed the brain of Auguste Deter, who was suffering from memory loss symptoms and brain problems in a mental hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. language and behavior. (Some critics later concluded that he might be suffering from something else, including vascular dementia, which is caused by problems with blood flow to the brain, such as mini-strokes or metachromatic leukodystrophy, an enzyme deficiency.)

Dementia – the general term for a group of disorders characterized by devastating cognitive impairment resulting from disease, injury and/or genetics – is a major cause of addiction, disability and death. Current estimates indicate that 44 million people worldwide are living with dementia. As the population ages, this is estimated to more than triple by 2050, when the annual cost of dementia in the United States alone could exceed $600 billion. (The cost to caregivers, many of whom receive little financial or psychological support, is incalculable.) Low- and middle-income populations seem to be most at risk for the greatest increases as they have higher diabetes and cardiovascular patterns. diseases such as high blood pressure that affect certain types of dementia.

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Alzheimer’s disease, which can only be truly diagnosed with an autopsy, is currently the most common type of dementia in the United States – again accounting for 50 to 60% of all cases, with a disproportionate impact on minority populations. Alzheimer’s is characterized by certain changes in the brain, particularly the deposition of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) of hyperphosphorylated tau.

Interestingly, Alzheimer’s starts deep in the brain, so these pathophysiological signs may begin to appear 10 to 20 years before the onset of symptoms and then gradually spread to other parts of the brain. Major symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia include a gradual increase in memory loss, shortened attention span, personality changes, being uncomfortable in new situations and difficulty organizing thoughts, learning new things, writing, reading, using numbers, and even speaking.

An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. Today, one person in the country is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by 2050, half that time is expected to develop a new case of Alzheimer’s, resulting in about 1 million new cases per year, or 13.8 million new cases, fueled by the aging baby boom generation.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is still no disease-modifying treatment. However, the best intervention strategies are those that catch dementia early. Epidemiological evidence suggests that education and physical exercise may protect against certain types of dementia, whereas midlife hypertension and diabetes affect a risk such as vascular dementia. Low-cost lifestyle measures that improve brain health, halt ongoing degeneration, repair neuronal damage, and prevent cognitive disability are at the forefront of the dementia prevention debate. Many interventional studies focus on cognitively healthy individuals at risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (before significant irreversible neuronal network dysfunction and loss associated with overt clinical symptoms occurs); this is the best strategy to reduce the incidence of the disorder. prevalence.

From a nutritional standpoint, the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approach to Systolic Hypertension) diets have been shown to slow cognitive decline. MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Dietary Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) and DASH are known for recommending high consumption of nuts, berries, beans, seafood, and poultry, as well as green leafy vegetables, among other foods.

something to think about

If our society really wants to confront this problem directly, we need to face it in its early stages and even in its early stages. Making healthy lifestyle choices – eating nutritious foods and getting more exercise – is an early start. What complicates things is that as individuals get older they put less effort into healthy behaviors like exercise due to pain, discomfort or inadequate beliefs.

But it’s not just a matter of eating well and getting active, especially in our age of digital anxiety. Stress can play a factor. (See page 68.) However, the biggest challenge may lie in a technology that seemingly does everything for us, distorting our brain patterns and attention span in the process. According to a recent New York Times interview with Richard Restak, a neurologist and clinical professor at the George Washington Hospital University School of Medicine and Health and author of The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind The trait most associated with memory loss – partly attention deficit. And for those who want everything at once in short internet blasts, it’s hard to pay attention. (She also recommends doing something less people do now – read books, especially novels that force you to concentrate and remember timelines.)

The most effective strategy we can employ is to switch from treatment to prevention. Even if the onset of dementia can only be delayed for a few years, it will greatly affect our society and its health. It is more important than ever to discover how lifestyle choices affect risk.

The author stands in front of a statue of New York Mets ace Tom Seaver at Citi Field in Queens. A cultured, sophisticated man – knowledgeable about the arts and later a California winemaker – Seaver died on August 31, 2020, at the age of 75, from complications from Lewy body dementia and Covid-19. Courtesy Roselli Fitness.

Contact Giovanni at giovanniroselli.com.