Nothing strikes terror in the hearts of seniors like the incurable Alzheimer’s disease. New research is bringing hope to Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families.
Q. I’m a 78-year-old woman with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. I live alone with no relatives nearby, so I worry about how I might get along if I contract this dreadful disease. Is there any hope on the horizon?
Alzheimer’s disease, which as you know eventually robs its victims of all memory, remains an incurable disease. Aging and genetics are two risk factors you can’t control. But there’s plenty of good news to report about reducing the risks and treating this disease, and research is ongoing on many fronts.
For instance, a study in the American Journal of Medicine recently reported that drinking fruit and vegetable juices frequently may significantly cut the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
U.S. researchers followed almost 2,000 people for up to 10 years and found the risk was 76 percent lower for those who drank juice more than three times a week, compared with those who drank it less than once a week.
An overall healthy diet also is a proven preventative, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It's research suggests that high cholesterol may contribute to stroke and brain cell damage. And there is growing evidence that a diet rich in dark vegetables and fruits, which contain antioxidants, may help protect brain cells, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Remaining socially active also is important, the Alzheimer’s Association reported. Social activity can reduce stress levels, which helps maintain healthy connections among brain cells. If you don’t have a social network, consider joining a senior organization in your community. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging office or your church for more information.
Or call your local Home Instead Senior Care® office. Local Home Instead Senior Care offices employ CAREGiversSM who can help seniors maintain healthy, active lifestyles.
Memory training is another possible benefit. The authors of a study published in the publication Neuropsychology speculated that Alzheimer’s disease makes it harder for people to encode what they learn in a strategic way. Because encoding is the first step in long-term memory, this affects their ability to remember things according to their value.
This research, the authors say, suggests the potential for improved memory training. People with early-stage Alzheimer’s might remember important information better by learning to be more strategic and selective when encoding high-value information, even though it comes at the expense of neglecting less-important information, the authors said.
Advances in drug therapy also have proven effective. Recent research (noted below) reveals that extended treatment with Alzheimer’s disease drugs can significantly slow the rate at which the disorder advances, and combination therapy with two different classes of drugs is even better at helping patients maintain their ability to perform daily activities.
In the study, published in Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders, scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital conducted testing on two types of FDA-approved medications for Alzheimer's treatment.
· Cholinesterase inhibitors (CIs) that have been available since the mid-1990s.
· Memantine, which received FDA approval in 2003, and is often used in combination with CIs.
According to the study, Alireza Atri, M.D., Ph.D., of the MGH Department of Neurology and lead author states, “One of the problems in judging these drugs has been that patients naturally continue to decline, which can make them think the drugs have stopped working. But our study indicates that treatment does have long-term benefit.”
What researchers discovered is that the longer patients kept receiving combination therapy, the smaller their rate of decline would become, suggesting that treatment might even protect brain cells from further damage, a possibility needing further investigation.
For more information about the drug study, log on to http://www.seniorjournal.com/NEWS/Alzheimers/2008/20080922-DrugsforAlzheimersDisease.htm