Can there be another solution - one that does not involve a drug, but instead a commitment to a lifestyle program which addresses the many components which affect brain health? Just as most medications do not completely cure diseases, lifestyle modifications will not eradicate Alzheimers' and other dementia for a myriad of reasons. Genetics, for one. If you are the unlucky recipient of the APO4 gene and have family members with Alzheimer's, you are at higher risk of developing the disease, and at an earlier age as well. While this accounts for less than 10 % of those afflicted with the disease, research must continue to investigate this genetic link. And what about the many studies which show a strong link of socioeconomic status and susceptibility to the disease - how is that easily resolved in a nation which is becoming more polarized in terms of the have and the have-nots?
Yet, we must remember that there are many other factors which affect brain health continually throughout the lifespan, not just in older years. These include diet, longtime learning ( yes, you can continue to learn even without a formal education) , managing stress and the 'drama' of life, movement and activity, medications, chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart and pulmonary disease, chronic inflammation and the degree of community and social involvement. And let's not forget smoking - definitely a risk factor! I am sure you notice that I did not add age into this list, and I will explain why. Yes, age is a risk factor for dementia. But this is not a modifiable risk, unless you die young! This is the first time in history that the most rapidly growing demographic are those over 85 years old! Yes, read that again, those over 85, due to the medical discoveries of the past century, better nutrition and living conditions, particularly for older individuals.
What can be done! How can we do it? And what will motivate us to attempt to change this precipitous course?
I will save that for next week's blog, but here's food for thought - there are evidence-based studies which demonstrated that lifestyle modifications and management did preserve cognitive function. Doing these studies is not very expensive - why aren't more of them ongoing in the United States?
As a final note, I invite you all to sign up for the Brain Health Registry, which was initiated by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, as a longitudinal study to examine lifestyle and cognition. It is a little bit of effort to participate but is the opportunity to make a difference, not just in your life, but those of our children!