One out of nine Americans aged 65 and above, or about 5.2 million people, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, according to data from the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease is considered the most common type of dementia, and it results in progressively worse symptoms that affect a sufferer’s memory, behavior, and ability to think. Age is one of the biggest risk factors for the disease, with older patients more prone to the condition, and about 33 percent of people 85 years old and above suffering from Alzheimer’s. But heredity may also be a factor, according to Cleveland Clinic Florida neuropsychologist Mark Todd.
“Having a parent or sibling who has dementia increases risk by three or four times,” he said, adding that certain unrelated medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and sleep apnea, could also result in a higher risk. This is especially true if the conditions are left untreated.
Currently, Todd says that the best tools against Alzheimer’s are avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and getting more exercise. “If you are older and can’t get around, you don’t have to run a marathon, but you can sit in a chair and learn aerobic exercises using your arms and legs to get to your target heart rate,” he added. Watching television, which many believe is a good tool against Alzheimer’s, may not be as effective as thought, but puzzles and games may be useful in helping older people avoid depression.
“Watching TV doesn’t help, even if it’s the History Channel,” Todd clarified. “I’d rather them go to a history class at a local university and talk with other people to make themselves think, more than just having the information passively given to them through the TV.”
Meanwhile, Miami researchers are looking into types of amyloid to see how stem cell treatment and other methods may help slow mental decline associated with Alzheimer’s. For example, Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach is looking into how amyloid PET scans have an effect on treatment of individuals with cognitive impairment, but no specific diagnosis yet. It is not covered by insurance, but Mount Sinai researchers hope to come up with proof that PET scans can work quickly in diagnosing patients and determining the right course of medical action.
Miami Jewish Health Systems also has a project of its own, as three out of 18 Alzheimer’s related clinical trials are making use of immunotherapy as a way to treat the disease.
“They are primarily done with regular intravenous infusions of antibodies,” said Miami Jewish Health Systems VP for behavioral health and clinical research Dr. Marc Agromin. “Immunotherapy tries to get our own immune system to recognize and get rid of the toxic protein beta-amyloid.”