CoastLine: New Science Reinforces Alzheimer's Risk Can be Mitigated through Lifestyle Changes

Jun 5, 2015

This broadcast of CoastLine originally aired on May 13, 2015. 

The onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can be one of the more terrifying aspects of growing older.  

While the risk of cognitive impairment increases with age, it is not considered a normal part of the aging process. 

The current Alzheimer’s epidemic will be completely unaffordable in the coming decades, according to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association, released earlier this year.  The report projects that Medicare and Medicaid costs linked to people with Alzheimer’s will more than double by 2030; costs will almost quintuple by 2050 – to one-point-one trillion dollars.  That would be up from the current $226 billion projected to be spent this year.  Continuing on that trajectory, according to the Association, would bankrupt the Medicare system. 

The lack of a cure in the face of the exponential increases in spending on the disease is causing some members of Congress to look for ways to ramp up funding on research. 

And although there is not yet a cure, there are innovative screening processes and worthwhile treatments.  In this edition of CoastLine, we learn about some of the signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.  We also explore why some experts advocate for screening after a certain age. 

In-studio guests:

Dr. Julian Keith, UNCW Professor of Psychology and one of three founders of the MARS Memory Health Network.

Dr. Len Lecci, UNCW Professor of Psychology and the Director of Clinical Services at the MARS Memory Health Network. He is also one of the founders of that clinic.

To listen to the individual segments of CoastLine, click on the files below.   

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Scientific studies continue to reinforce the notion that lifestyle changes not only lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease; a Mediterranean-style diet and exercise may also help mitigate the effects of the disease after diagnosis. 

Julian Keith is one of the founders of MARS Memory Health Network in Wilmington – a clinic that works with those at risk of or suffering from memory loss. 

Even before symptoms emerge, says Keith, those at risk for Alzheimer’s can influence their future.

"The question of whether that risk is modifiable through particular kinds of lifestyle interventions seems to be pretty well answered.  It does look like – even if there’s a heritable component – that you can decrease the likelihood of getting it by making certain lifestyle changes."

Those changes include adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, eating less meat and more plant-based food, learning relaxation techniques, and exercising. 

Len Lecci, also a founder of MARS, says the treatments available now make a compelling argument for having memory screenings early.     

"The best interventions that are out there are really ones that are prevention-by-delay, essentially.  They’re not cures.  For that reason getting to someone very early in the process is absolutely critical."

Another contributing factor:  antihistamines like Benadryl and anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax or Lunesta can double the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Resources:

Alzheimer's North Carolina:  http://www.alznc.org/

MARS Memory Health Network:  http://www.marsmemory.com/

Alzheimer's Association:  http://www.alz.org/