In the recently released trade paper edition of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life, Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan reiterate the latest prognosis about the insidious disease that steals our loved ones from us — indeed, as it takes away life as we know it from anyone stricken. No, there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s. And diagnosis remains iffy, with detection often inadvertently postponed until frightening symptoms have presented themselves.
The hope Small and Vorgan point to hangs on research that has uncovered the possibility of prevention. By becoming aware of lifestyle habits that promote a healthy brain, we can, they proclaim, push back the onset of dementia caused by aging and even offset the potential of genetic predisposition for the disease.
For those of us still in possession of our mental marbles, this is good news. Solid scientific investigation into the vitality of the human brain indicates that measures can be taken to slow down and stave off the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease and the development of those pesky amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles evident in the autopsied brain matter of its victims. These waxy proteins and twisted fibers are the unwelcome microscopic evidence left in areas of the brain that control memory and functions such as language, decision making, and personality. What isn’t known is whether they are the byproducts or the causes of the ailment, but by studying what goes on in the brain as it ages, researchers have found that healthy lifestyle habits — a wholesome diet, regular physical activity, and robust cognitive engagement — might be key in preventing cognitive decline.
In an otherwise upbeat report, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program outlines some of the more sobering statistics of Alzheimer’s disease. Every 70 seconds, another American is diagnosed to be suffering from it. By midcentury, a new case will develop every 30 seconds. Victims currently number up to 36 million worldwide. The worldwide costs of medical and social care, including estimated informal care from unpaid family members and others, totaled $604 billion in 2010 — more than the annual revenue of Walmart. That plaques and tangles begin to build up in an affected brain decades before symptoms emerge, and even in the brains of otherwise healthy people as young as 30.