The statistics are sobering. More than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, the progressive brain disorder that begins with mild memory loss and can progress to a loss of ability to talk or respond to the environment. Even the most chill older adult can’t help but worry at least a little when he or she can’t remember the grocery list they thought they had in their head, the name of the new neighbor they just met, or why they walked into the kitchen.
Reasons for Hope
Still, there is reason for optimism, experts say, as research uncovers more clues of what goes wrong and the hope of a cure is still the goal.
First, to calm nerves, check out this list of what’s normal and what’s not (Forgetting a monthly payment, normal; having trouble remembering to pay all your bills, not. For more about retaining your memory, read here.)
“There is a lot of hope for the research going on right now.’
“There is a lot of hope for the research going on right now,” says Christopher Weber, PhD, director of global science initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. Scientist are working on different targets and hoping to treat and ultimately cure Alzheimer’s, he says.
Many medications are approved and used to help treat Alzheimer’s.
Big News – a possible treatment?
However, the big news recently is the FDA approval, on June 7, of aducanumab (brand name Aduhelm), an intravenous treatment meant to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s by attacking beta amyloid plaque in the brain, a hallmark of the disease. The drug’s approval was controversial, as the FDA had previously rejected the approval and critics say the evidence of effectiveness is lacking. The list price is $56,000 annually, but those with insurance are not expected to pay that total.
Lifestyle changes can help
Unfortunately, according to FDA research, some populations are particularly at risk. African-Americans are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and to be more severely affected. They also have higher rates of high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, than do other racial groups.
It’s important, therefore, to stay on top of lifestyle and health factors and make lifestyle changes that could preserve brain health.
The habits of people in midlife, in particular, have a big impact on brain health later. “We say the table gets set during your mid life,” says Steven T. DeKosky, MD, a professor of neurology and deputy director of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.
Especially important, he and others agree, is keeping blood pressure and blood cholesterol under control and getting regular exercise as well as good sleep. “As much as 40% of Alzheimer’s could be reduced or eliminated with an aggressive attack on risk factors,” he says.
Even if you’re past midlife (about 30 to 60), you can do much to preserve your brain function, DeKosky says. “Make sure you have your blood pressure under control. Have your cholesterol checked, be sure statins [if you take them] are working. Start walking. Any kind of exercise is useful.”
“Take a hard look in the refrigerator. If it’s mostly prepared foods with lots of salt and sugar—instead of the stuff that is in my refrigerator—try to improve the diet by eating less red meat, less salt and more vegetables.”
What else can help?
- A recent study on sleep found that people who got six hours or less of sleep nightly when in their 50’s and 60’s had a higher risk of getting dementia later.
- Keep weight under control. No, a few extra pounds isn’t good for your memory.
- Turn off the television. A trio of studies just presented at an American Heart Association meeting found that spending moderate to high amounts of TV viewing throughout midlife was linked with a lower volume of gray matter (important for memory, movement, emotions). The greater the viewing time, the worse effect on brain measures.
You can also check out events on the Alzheimer’s Association’s Longest Day, on the summer solstice June 20, with fundraising events and other activities.
Take our survey: Would you try Aduhelm, if needed?
Aduhelm, the drug just approved, is a treatment, not a preventive. Despite the debate about how effective the drug is, would you be willing to try or authorize it for yourself, a partner or someone entrusted to your care?
This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.