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Will Washington cut funds for Alzheimer’s care?

17th May 2011   ·   0 Comments

The Louisiana Weekly Staff Reports

A recent report issued by the Alzheimer’s Association says Alzheimer’s costs are projected to explode by mid-century.

The report, titled “Changing the Trajectory of Alzheimer’s Disease: A National Imperative,” predicts that an increase in Alzheimer’s patients — from 5.1 million today to 13.5 million—will raise total Alzheimer’s costs to more than $1 trillion annually by 2050.

With healthcare costs already soaring out of control and Washington talking about cutting funding to Medicare and Medicaid to close the massive budget deficit, one expert suggests that it’s time for all of us to get proactive about safeguarding our own mental health.

“We can lower the Alzheimer’s cost projection if we can find ways to delay the onset of the disease as well as delay progression to the most severe stages where patients require an extensive amount of care,” says neuroscience resear­cher Mark Underwood of Quincy Bioscience.

Memory loss research brings hope

Underwood says recent research has established why the human brain loses its “horsepower,” and why brain neurons die prematurely, triggering memory loss and eventually leading to more serious cognitive breakdowns.

“We have known for some time that the existence of excess calcium within the neurons causes them to lose function and trigger a gradual loss of memory,” says Underwood.

Underwood says new research shows calcium overload in the neurons can be counteracted through the administration of a “calcium binding protein” in the form of an oral supplement. The supplement lowers calcium levels thereby restoring neuron function.

“We are hopeful that studies can be done to determine the effectiveness of the calcium binding protein in restoring memory and focus to those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia,” says Underwood.

A discovery that postpones Alzheimer’s onset by five years and starts showing an effect in 2015 would reduce the population of Americans age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s from 5.6 million to four million in 2020, the report said.

Simple suggestions for keeping your brain alive and well

Underwood says despite the gloomy predictions, there are many things each of us can do on an individual basis to help fight the onset of dementia and maintain our own cognitive health:

• Eat your veggies — A 2006 study of more than 3,700 older adults found that those who ate plenty of vegetables slowed the decline of their mental abilities by 40 percent, compared with those who skimped on their greens.

• Get outdoors — Your skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight. Among volunteers 65 years and older, those with the lowest levels of the vitamin were more than twice as likely to have cognitive impairment as those whose levels were optimal. Because the process gets less efficient with age, some researchers also recommend supplements; talk to your doctor.

• Use your brain — Two recent studies found that people who had spent more years in school or had worked in mentally demanding jobs stayed sharper, even when their brains were damaged by the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease. Lifelong hobbies such as playing cards or doing crossword puzzles might also help protect against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

• Talk to people — A Harvard study last year found that socially connected people kept more of their memory intact as they aged — up to twice as much, according to one measure.

• Regulate brain calcium — Calcium can be controlled with a dietary supplement, “Prevagen.”

This story originally published in the April 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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