No proven ways to stave off Alzheimer’s

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CLASSIFIEDS/HEALTH -

There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer’s, but a new re­port raises the prospect that avoid­ing nine key risks start­ing in child­hood just might de­lay or even pre­vent about a third of de­men­tia cases around the world.

How? It has to do with life­style fac­tors that may make the brain more vul­ner­a­ble to prob­lems with mem­ory and think­ing as we get older. They’re such risks as not get­ting enough ed­u­ca­tion early in life, high blood pres­sure and obe­sity in mid­dle age, and be­ing seden­tary and so­cially iso­lated in the se­nior years.

Thurs­day’s re­port in the Bri­tish jour­nal Lancet is provoca­tive - its au­thors ac­knowl­edge their es­ti­mate is the­o­ret­i­cal, based on sta­tis­ti­cal mod­el­ing. A re­cent U.S. re­port was much more cau­tious, say­ing there are en­cour­ag­ing hints that a few life­style changes can bol­ster brain health but lit­tle if any proof.

Still, it’s never too early to try, said Lancet lead au­thor Gill Liv­ingston, a psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don.

“Al­though de­men­tia is di­ag­nosed in later life, the brain changes usu­ally be­gin to de­velop years be­fore,” she noted.

Early next year, a $20 mil­lion U.S. study will be­gin rig­or­ously test­ing if some sim­ple day-to­day ac­tiv­i­ties truly help older adults stay sharp. In the mean­time, Alzheimer’s spe­cial­ists say there’s lit­tle down side to cer­tain com­mon-sense rec­om­men­da­tions.

“In­creased health of the body sup­ports in­creased health of the brain,” said cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist Laura Baker of Wake For­est School of Medicine in North Carolina, who will lead the up­com­ing U.S. study.

Con­sider phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, cru­cial for heart health. “If in fact it should also im­prove the prospects for cog­ni­tive func­tion and de­men­tia, all the better,” said Dr. Richard Hodes, di­rec­tor of the U.S. Na­tional In­sti­tute on Ag­ing and an avid ex­er­ciser.

Here’s the lat­est from this week’s Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on pos­si­ble ways to guard your brain:

A Lancet-ap­pointed panel cre­ated a model of de­men­tia risks through­out life that es­ti­mates about 35 per cent of all cases of de­men­tia are at­trib­ut­able to nine risk fac­tors - risks that people po­ten­tially could change.

Their re­sult­ing rec­om­men­da­tions: En­sure good child­hood ed­u­ca­tion; avoid high blood pres­sure, obe­sity and smok­ing; man­age di­a­betes, de­pres­sion and age-re­lated hear­ing loss; be phys­i­cally ac­tive; stay so­cially en­gaged in old age.

The the­ory: These fac­tors to­gether play a role in whether your brain is re­silient enough to with­stand years of silent dam­age that even­tu­ally leads to Alzheimer’s.

Last month, the U.S. Na­tional Academies of Sciences, En­gi­neer­ing and Medicine re­ported there’s lit­tle rig­or­ous proof. That re­port found some ev­i­dence that con­trol­ling blood pres­sure, ex­er­cise and some forms of brain train­ing - keep­ing in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lated - might work and couldn’t hurt.

Why? What’s good for the heart is gen­er­ally good for the brain. In fact, high blood pres­sure that can trig­ger heart at­tacks and strokes also in­crease risk for what’s called “vas­cu­lar de­men­tia.”

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In this Oct. 7, 2003, file photo, a sec­tion of a hu­man brain with Alzheimer’s dis­ease is on dis­play at the Mu­seum of Neu­roanatomy at the Univer­sity at Buf­falo, in Buf­falo, N.Y.

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