Fending off Alzheimer’s, dementia

Many healthy lifestyle factors can reduce effect of diseases

Britni Petitt, Photo Editor

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Researchers from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, including Dr. Nathaniel Chin, attended the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) last July. According to research reported at the conference, adhering to multiple healthy lifestyle factors can greatly reduce risk for dementia and cognitive decline.

This is huge news for the center as they are researching prevention and early detection of Alzheimer’s. Currently there is no cure, they can only treat symptoms and hope to slow its progression. Considering it is the 6th leading cause of death in the nation and 110,000 Wisconsinites currently have it, prevention is important.

Healthy lifestyle factors can include many things but according to Dr. Chin, the director of medical services at Wisconsin ADRC, there are a few aspects that he recommends to patients the most, including refraining from smoking and excessive alcohol use. Exercise, diet, stress management, sleep, socialization, and challenging your brain regularly are all important in the name of prevention too.

Exercise has the most research and most convincing studies proving prevention. Moderate level cardio is recommended but if all you feel ready to do is walk more, Dr. Chin says that’s fine. Some is always better than none in this case. A free, twice-weekly exercise class for seniors, called Get Movin’ is available here in Madison.

Diet, specifically the MIND’s diet, is being researched and showing that brains look younger as they age when followed closely. Sleep is important and the research field is growing but the important take away is not to use Benadryl for sleep or other similar medicines. Over a lifetime it has been shown to increase the risk of thinking changes.

Challenging your brain creates a higher cognitive reserve which may help reduce dementia in aging brains. Learning a new hobby or language, formal education, or playing brain games like sudoku can help, but the key word is challenging. If it’s easy, it doesn’t help.

Dr. Chin says it’s important to note that dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing. He gives lectures explaining this. Simply put, Alzheimer’s is a specific cause of dementia. While Alzheimer’s is the most common cause (about 60-80% of cases), other diseases or illnesses can be responsible for dementia. Mental health plays a role as well. Depression can act as a mimic of dementia and is also a noted risk factor.

Alzheimer’s itself has two types, early onset and late onset. Early onset occurs before the age of 65 and late onset occurs after. A genetic risk is involved in both; however, they are caused by different gene issues. Early onset involves a gene mutation whereas, late onset occurs in a variant of a specific protein. Of course, having a genetic risk doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee that you’ll develop the disease. When the lifestyle aspects are adhered to, there’s a drop in the genetic risk for Alzheimer’s. When four or five of the factors are followed there’s a 60% Alzheimer’s dementia risk reduction than when only one or two factors are followed.

There’s a lot that goes into preventing and caring for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Dr. Chin has a podcast called Dementia Matters where he speaks to caregivers, researchers, social workers, and offers advice to those wanting to help a relative or learn more about dementia. Feel free to check it out if you’d like to learn more.