Vail Daily column: New hope for Alzheimer’s Disease |

Vail Daily column: New hope for Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease robs people of their dignity and families of loved ones. Trailing cancer and coronary heart disease as the third leading cause of death, Alzheimer’s afflicts 1 in 10 Americans, an estimated 4.5 million.

What makes one person age successfully and another develop Alzheimer’s? We know that genetics can’t account for all victims of this disease. For example, if one identical twin gets Alzheimer’s, then there’s no guarantee the other twin will. Can lifestyle, diet and exercise help protect one from Alzheimer’s? How much slowing of memory is normal in the elderly and how does this differ from Alzheimer’s? Heralding new hope in the fight against Alzheimer’s, today’s doctors aim to answer these and other questions as tremendous strides in groundbreaking research are made. Current research is being conducted at several levels — from examining basic molecular changes in mice to human studies.

From mice to mankind

Research with mice has identified a trigger protein at the molecular level that marks the onset of Alzheimer’s. This has important implications for developing drugs that can target and possibly halt the disease. There is also some evidence to suggest that aerobic exercise may have an effect on lowering the amounts of the trigger protein. Among the many goals is to uncover the connection between loss of cognitive function and age. Doctors are also looking into the mechanisms causing Alzheimer’s disease and developing treatments.

Doctors are trying to determine what activities, foods, hobbies, exercise, and medications separate “successful agers” from those who get Alzheimer’s. One idea gaining attention is the “use it or lose it” hypothesis: do people who remain physically and mentally active reduce their risk? Researchers specializing in the diagnoses and treatment of patients with dementia are conducting clinical trials, and studying the normal aging process.

Preserving patients’ abilities

While people with Alzheimer’s have problems with memory, this doesn’t mean they have problems with all aspects of brain function or that they can’t learn new things. Alzheimer’s patients can not only learn new tasks, but can also improve their ability on certain tasks. When patients learn a new motor-skills task, this improved ability can transfer to other, similar tasks. Studies are underway that reveal how early in the disease motor control is lost and whether practice can slow down these changes.

Drawing and painting can help

A range of other activities appear to be preserved in a number of Alzheimer’s patients, including drawing, painting and other artistic skills. Understanding what abilities are spared rather than focusing on what goes wrong may help us teach family members and care givers how to better help patients. It’s now common for painting and other arts to be offered at adult daycare centers. Doctors are also looking into any other abilities that are spared during the disease process.

Ounces of prevention

What can those in their 40s and 50s do to lower their risk of Alzheimer’s? Some doctors recommend a multi-level strategy of good health, exercise and nutrition. What’s good for the heart is usually good for the brain, so individuals should follow a sensible healthy diet. Other preventive measures include managing hypertension — the earlier the better — reducing stress, regulating glucose and keeping weight down to normal levels. The battle lines against Alzheimer’s have been drawn. We know what this terrible disease can do. With continued research, we’ll hopefully discover a cure.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. His contact information is,, or 970-328-5526.

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