Dear Dr. Dave & Dr. Dee,
My father died of Alzheimer's five years ago. I am worried about getting Alzheimer's. Is there anything I can do to prevent it?
Having a family member with Alzheimer's does not mean that you will get it, too. Age and family history of Alzheimer's are risk factors, but half the people with Alzheimer's had no family members with the disease.
Having a family member with Alzheimer's does not automatically mean that you will get it, too. A study by Jeffrey and Nghiem (2008) found that even if both parents had Alzheimer's, adult offspring developed Alzheimer's in 22.6% of cases. But, not having a family member with Alzheimer’s does not indicate that one can be worry free. Half the people with the common late onset Alzheimer's had no family history (Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation, 2009). Scientists have discovered a gene that is directly linked to Alzheimer's called "familial Alzheimer's disease," but accounts for less than 5% of cases (Alzheimer's Association, 2009).
According to the National Institute on Aging, 4.5 million people have Alzheimer's and predicts that by 2050, over 13 million people will have Alzheimer's given the increase in life expectancy.
Ongoing research examines ways to help protect against Alzheimer's and includes diet, exercise, and medications:
1. DIET: a low-fat, antioxidant-rich diet was associated with decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease. In addition, Omega-3 fatty acids found in soy, fish, and other oils may help protect the brain against memory loss and brain cell damage. Vitamins C & E were also linked to protection against Alzheimer's (www.alzinfo.org).
2. EXERCISE - physical and mental: a healthy weight may cut Alzheimer's risk (www.alzinfo.org). Besides physical exercise, "mental aerobics" is important. Dr. Gary Small, Director of the UCLA Memory & Aging Research Center advocates keeping mentally and physically active to help offset the effects of aging on the brain (drgarysmall.com).
A study led by Dr. Verghese published in the New England Journal of Medicine (www.nejm.org) found that people older than 75 who read books or newspapers, danced, played cards, board games or musical instruments had lower risk of developing Alzheimer's; and the more frequent the activity, the lower the risk.
The Alzheimer's Disease Education & Referral Center (www.alzheimers.org) reports on animal research that found regular physical activity (at least twice a week), mental stimulation (play with other dogs and toys), and a diet rich in antioxidants (fruits, vegetables, vitamins) can help keep brains in top shape.
3. MEDICATIONS: drugs to lower cholesterol (statins such as Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs such as Aleve or Vioxx), and ibuprofen (i.e. Advil, Motrin) may help prevent Alzheimer's or slow its progression (www.alzinfo.org).
There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. For people diagnosed with Alzheimer's, there are prescription drugs to help treat some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time period, but these medications will not stop the disease (www.alz.org).