Recent Headlines Proclaim, “Alzheimer’s Is The Most Expensive Malady In The U.S., Exceeding That For Heart Disease And Cancer.” 1 And “Costs Are Skyrocketing At A Rate That Rarely Occurs With A Chronic Disease.” 2
These headlines came on the date that the Alzheimer’s Association released data to share with legislators in Washington, D.C., who are voting on appropriations for the national HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act. This legislation will fund the National Institutes of Health research for a cure and prevention measures for Alzheimer’s disease.
A few facts reveal why this is a critical issue before Congress:
• Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death and the only one in the top 10 without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression.
• There has not been a new medication for Alzheimer’s disease in the last 10 years. Existing drugs do not slow or stop the disease. Instead, they allow people to retain functional skills for a longer time as the disease progresses.
• This disease affects mothers, fathers, grandparents, friends and neighbors, as well as family caregivers, employers and community organizations they have worked with and supported prior to developing the disease.
• More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease today.
• Millions more will develop Alzheimer’s disease – maybe even you. The number of Americans estimated to be diagnosed by the year 2050 is 15 million, with an associated cost of care and services at $1.2 billion. If this trajectory occurs, it will bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid funds.
In addition to the research underway to find a cure, multiple studies have been released showing what can be done to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia illnesses. The list is not revolutionary. It follows a long-held premise: what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. The “use it or lose it” theorem has been the leading focus of studies on prevention for more than 20 years. “Move more; eat less and better” is the short version of the importance of regular exercise and good nutrition practices.
New in the prominence of the research findings is information on the importance of socialization and cognitive enhancement. A 2012 study with random participants over the age of 65 from all races and walks of life highlighted that strong social networks, family ties, friendships and affiliations with groups or organizations important to an individual are as protective as aerobic and strength-based exercise in regards to staving off the onset of a dementia illness – even if the genetic component is a concern.
Cognitive enhancement studies are also more substantiated and profuse than ever before. Learning new information that is complex and novel, that engages the hippocampus and amygdala spheres of the brain, is essential to adding new brain cells. New brain cells enhance the capacity to attend to tasks and “upload” new information.
All of these strategies are keys to maintaining and gaining brain health. Information on diets and the nutrients that are essential to brain function, exercise specific to the goal and cognitive enhancement strategies is readily available from industry experts focused on raising awareness and providing services to support healthy aging. The important message is, “if it is going to be, it is up to me.”
1[Bloomberg, Et al] 2 [New York Times]
Marge Coalman, Ed.D., is vice president of Wellness & Programs for Touchmark, which builds and operates retirement communities in eight states and Canada, including Touchmark at Coffee Creek in Edmond.