Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It affects more than 5 million Americans. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that some 16 million people will develop the disease by the year 2050 if an effective treatment is not discovered. Symptoms of AD usually develop slowly and worsen over time. They often become severe enough to interfere with daily tasks, and can eventually cause death.
In a new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, James E. Galvin, MD, MPH, Professor of Integrated Medical Science and Associate Dean for Clinical Research, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University, examined potential AD prevention strategies.
Dr. Galvin notes that just four medications have been approved to treat AD symptoms. A major effort is underway to develop new treatments for the disease by the year 2025, and researchers have launched several new studies.
Another area of research interest focuses on AD prevention strategies. In studies of people with AD, researchers have discovered conditions that increase risk factors associated with the disease. When these conditions are combined, they account for more than 50 percent of the risk for AD. They include:
- High blood pressure
- Kidney problems
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- High cholesterol
- Coronary heart disease
- Low activity life style
Researchers looked at 19 studies about various brain-stimulating activities that may lower risks for AD, . They discovered that doing crossword puzzles, playing card games, using a computer, making arts or crafts, taking classes, having group discussions, and listening to music all had protective effects against AD.
Researchers have learned that physical activity helps reduce AD risk by up to 65 percent, depending on the type of exercise and its intensity. That's because exercise reduces blood vessel disease risk, improves your breathing function, supports the survival of the cells that make up your body, and lessens inflammation.
Age remains the greatest risk factor for AD: by 82, the risk for developing the disease is 42 percent. The good news: 58 percent of older adults do not develop AD.
Presently, we don't understand why some people develop the disease and others don't. But addressing the risk factors we do know about could make a difference. For example, up to 30 percent of AD cases may be preventable by living a well-balanced, healthy life. That would include eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods, lean proteins, and few to no "fast" or processed foods. A healthy lifestyle also includes physical activity and social engagement.
The future of researching ways to prevent AD should probably focus on people at risk for developing the disease, said researchers, and should highlight how to improve management of chronic health conditions and education about living healthier.
This summary is from "The Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease: Lessons Learned and Applied." It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are James E. Galvin, MD, MPH, and Charles E. Schmidt.
About the Health in Aging Foundation
This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.
About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.
About the American Geriatrics Society
Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has -- for 75 years -- worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.