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Aging, Alzheimer’s, and the Brain

Aging, Alzheimer’s, and the Brain


Age is a question of mind over matter.
If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

-- Satchel Paige, baseball player

Alzheimer’s: When the Brain Loses Hold

No one wants to suffer pain or illness, but losing mental capacity is also near the top of most people’s lists of things they’d like to avoid as they age. And many fear their brains will lose hold because of Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s hard to avoid hearing about Alzheimer’s: 30% of Americans have a family member with the disease, and most of the caregivers (60%) are women. In 2010, over 5,000 news stories were released on Alzheimer’s and its research.

These symptoms, from the Alzheimer’s Association, can help you sort out your normal brain farts from the disease’s symptoms:

This is Not Alzheimer's: Normal Life Problems That Happen Occasionally

* Forgetting a name or appointment, but remembering later

* Errors when doubling a recipe or balancing a checkbook

* Needing help setting the microwave or working the TV remote

* Temporary disorientation about the day of the week

* Vision changes related to new glasses or cataracts

* Trouble finding the right word

* Misplacing things from time to time

* Making a bad decision

* Feeling burnt out from work, family, and social obligations

* Getting irritated when your way of doing things gets disrupted

This Could Be Alzheimer's: Alzheimer’s Symptoms

* Memory loss that disrupts daily life

* Planning or problem-solving challenges

* Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home or work

* Confusion with time or place

* Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

* New problems with words when speaking or writing (such as calling a watch a “hand-clock”)

* Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

* Decreased or poor judgment

* Withdrawal from work or social activities

* Changes in mood and personality

What Causes Alzheimer's?

Aging, Alzheimer’s, and the Brain Scientists are not absolutely sure what causes cell death and tissue loss in the Alzheimer brain, but those plaques and tangles are prime suspects. They may be connected with the inflammatory processes associated with aging, according to recent research.

Researchers are on a quest to understand what affects Alzheimer’s and its progression, especially since between 2010 and 2030, 10,000 baby boomers will turn sixty-five each day. But some of these studies have questions as well.

Alzheimer’s Research: Do The Following Keep Your Brain Together?

Could you avoid Alzheimer’s if you took fish-oil supplements… ate healthy foods … got adequate vitamins (especially vitamin E and folic acid) … drank juice … ate curries … did Sudoku and crossword puzzles … read something challenging daily … engaged in a debate … turned off the TV … surfed the Internet … wrote in a daily journal … played Nintendo and brain-fitness games … changed it up and did something different … controlled cholesterol and high blood pressure … got enough sleep … didn’t do drugs … cut alcohol consumption … didn’t smoke … meditated … thought positive thoughts … reduced stress … did neurofeedback … listened to music … hung out with friend … supported your marriage … avoided vaccines and other potential sources of mercury … avoided aluminum … and put vinegar in everything?

All these things might make you healthier, but do any of them prevent Alzheimer’s?

Let’s start with the factors that are consistently associated with increased risk:

Smoking, but there is no consistent evidence on past smoking

High blood pressure, metabolic syndrome (a cluster of medical abnormalities), and diabetes

A gene variation (ApoE) linked with increased types of cognitive decline

These factors are associated with reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and/or cognitive decline:

Light to moderate alcohol intake

Leisure activities, such as painting, gardening, religious and club membership

Cognitive training (a five- to six-week training period), even to a modest extent five years after the training ends

Diets low in saturated fat, Mediterranean diets, and high vegetable intake

Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil)

Increased physical activity, including walking

Learning a second language. Bilingual people with Alzheimer’s were diagnosed four years later than those who were monolingual. Even when their brains were not as healthy as those of monolingual people with the disease, the bilingual people functioned better.

Depression & Alzheimer's: Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

There is a link between depression and Alzheimer’s, but “it is unclear whether . . . depression might reflect early features [symptoms] of Alzheimer’s disease,” says the study report.

Meditation was not researched at the NIH State-of-the-Science conference, but studies have shown that it helps strengthen neural connections, thereby enhancing memory and improving focus. However, these studies were not related to Alzheimer’s.

The Following Have Been Said to Help or Be Associated With Alzheimer's

Many things have been said to help or be associated with Alzheimer’s, but so far there isn’t enough scientific evidence to back up the claims of the following items:

• Vitamin B12, E, and C; folic acid; flavanoids; multivitamins; beta-carotene and ginkgo biloba

• Obesity, sleep apnea, and traumatic brain injury

• Socioeconomic status or years of education

• Antihypertensive or anti-inflammatory medications

• Herbal preparations, toxins, or environmental exposures

The next step will hopefully be more high-quality studies specifically for Alzheimer’s, and many are in the works. When it comes to the brain and Alzheimer’s, there is always more to learn. Dr. Soo Borson, who has worked with brains for forty years says, “We have to have respect for the brain, nature, and its secrets. We really haven’t cracked most of them.” [Dr. Soo Borson, director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the University of Washington and presenter on the PBS series The Art of Aging.]

Living Life As Fully As Possible, Right Now

How do you handle concerns about aging, Alzheimer’s, and losing your cognitive power when there are no guarantees?

Live life as fully as possible. That means doing all the things that keep you engaged and healthy — move more, eat well, socialize, don’t smoke, worry less, and keep yourself and your brain active.

At the very least, you will maintain a healthy weight and prevent disease — and you may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and other age-related brain changes.

At the very best, you will make this life, right now, a better one.

©2012 by Sondra Kornblatt. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Conari Press, an imprint of
Red Wheel/Weiser LLC. Brain Fitness for Women is available
wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher
at 1-800-423-7087 or http://redwheelweiser.com.

This article was excerpted with permission from the book:

Brain Fitness for Women: Keeping Your Head Clear & Your Mind Sharp at Any Age
by Sondra Kornblatt.

Aging, Alzheimer’s, and the BrainSondra Kornblatt offers fun facts (chocolate does boost cognitive function), tips (your brain wants a glass of water in the morning), and advice (forget multitasking, the brain can only process one thing at a time) for women who want to keep their minds in tiptop shape. She examines how hormones, the environment, exercise, stress, food, aging, and even friendship affect the brain, and offers strategies for keeping your brain on its metaphorical tiptoes at any age.

For more info and/or to order this book on Amazon, click here.

About the Author

Aging, Alzheimer’s, and the Brain Sondra Kornblatt is a health and science writer and the author of A Better Brain at Any Age and co-author of 365 Energy Boosters. She developed Restful Insomnia (formerly Creative Insomnia) in the midst of a long bout of insomnia in 2000. Sondra drew on thirty years of visualization, meditation, therapy, yoga, spirituality, and other personal work to develop several novel insomnia techniques and innovative ways to use familiar ones to renew. She has been teaching it in the Pacific Northwest since. Learn more at www.restfulinsomnia.com