Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented?

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Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented?
Malayala Manorma English Edition Monday,30 July 2007 20:48 hrs IST

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a group of conditions that all gradually destroy brain cells and lead to progressive decline in mental functions like memory, ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate, carry out daily activities etc. As Alzheimer’s progresses, individuals may also experience changes impersonality and behavior, such as anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation, as well as delusions or hallucinations.

In US alone, there are over 5 million people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, people in India have an unusually low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, it is observed. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, new treatments are emerging as a result of better insight into the biology of the disease.

It is well known that Alzheimer’s occurs less commonly in well-educated people and studies show that life long learning is a good way to combat this disease.
Regular mental stimulation through work, continuing education, extensive reading, playing mentally challenging games like solving mathematical puzzles of sudoku and magic square, or learning a new language or musical instrument etc. can help keep the mental capabilities finely tuned. Such mental activities cause brain cells to grow more numerous connections that aid communication with adjoining brain cells. Scientists have discovered that, even in old age, some areas of the brain can actually create new cells in response to stimulation. Participating in interesting social or leisure activities is found to diminish the July 2007 Executive Knowledge Lines 5risk of the disease.

In a study researchers found those who engaged in the greatest variety of leisure activities-including hobbies, going on outings, visiting family or friends, volunteering, or joining group social events-had the lowest risk of mental decline. Physical exercise also helps keep our cognitive abilities in good shape. Exercise enhances mental agility and alertness, perhaps by improving blood flow to the brain. In a study of exercise patterns in women, researchers found worsening mental abilities in 24%, who walked little, a half-mile each week. But in women who walked the most-an average of 18 miles a week-only 17% showed signs of mental decline. Stress reduction with techniques like meditation, yoga, and breathing or relaxation exercises is also found to help in managing the disease.

Finally, good nutrition is also an important factor. A high-fat diet and obesity are factors that increase the risk for Alzheimer’s. Some of the nutrients that may offer protection include B-complex vitamins, monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, omega-3fatty acids in fish and flax seeds, antioxidant vitamins C and E in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (especially blueberries, spinach, and seaweed), turmeric etc.