By Tracy Tomac, MD, Ecumen Consulting Psychiatrist
Recent research on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is beginning to get lots of attention from mainstream media, and associations like AARP and the Alzheimer’s Association also are doing a great job of disseminating important findings. Here’s a roundup of items over the past month that caught my attention:
- The summer issue of the AARP Bulletin features a special report "Nursing Home Drug Outrage: Prescription for Abuse," highlighting the inappropriate use of antipsychotics in nursing homes. I’m glad to see AARP bringing this topic to the attention of many seniors and their families. This is an issue the Ecumen Awakenings™ program set out to address five years ago and since has made major strides in reducing the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes.
- A recent optimistic story from the Associated Press reports that the dementia rate is falling in the United States and that the age of onset appears to be happening later in life. Using data from the well-known Framingham study, researchers were able to track new dementia cases in people over 60 starting in five year periods in 1978, 1989, 1996, and 2006. The study concludes that Americans over age 60 today are 44 percent less likely to develop dementia than a similar-age person 30 years ago. Researchers attribute the delay to "more education and better heart health."
- On the not-so-good news front, gender differences continue to be apparent in Alzheimer's disease. The APOE4 gene, which is associated with AD, increased the risk of developing AD in both sexes, but much more so for women (Annals of Neurology, April 2014). The Alzheimer's Association reported that AD "takes a disproportionate toll on women." One in six women over age 65 will get the disease, compared to one in eleven men. In addition, women are more likely to be caregivers for someone with AD. The cost of care is astounding — an estimated $214 billion for 2014.
- Back to the optimistic: The Los Angeles Times recently reported that in people with higher genetic risk for AD, completing more school and continuing mentally challenging activities throughout life could delay the onset of dementia by about nine years. (JAMA Neurology, June 2014). In addition, a study of Minnesotan seniors showed that lifelong intellectual activities kept the mind fit as people aged and delayed AD by years. Much benefit was seen in patients who embarked on intellectual activities from middle age onward. So, it is never too late!
- Finally, NBC Nightly News (July 14) reported on “astounding” findings from the Alzheimer's Association International Conference that lifestyle has a definitive influence on brain health. The good news: "Commonsense activities such as eating well, exercising, keeping mentally and socially engaged, and managing obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, can reduce the risk of memory decline."
So, get out there and take a walk, enjoy the healthy fruits and vegetables of summer, socialize with friends, and learn something new. It’s good for your brain.