One of the most puzzling facts I have read about Alzheimer’s and dementia is that people can show no clinical signs of memory problems but still have strong anatomical evidence. There have been studies of what are referred to as super-agers, those that live into their eighties and nineties with no clinical sign of cognitive problems. In fact they test out as well as those 30-40 years their junior. Looking at their brains postmortem, 40% of these same clear as a bell elders had brains with all the physical evidence of Alzheimer’s. They should have displayed significant problems, but they did not. The only two real notable differences were 1: The super-agers also had developed increased thickness in an area of the brain associated with decision-making, impulse control and emotions and other functions that was not found in the brains of their peers or of healthy younger people.
and 2: Lifestyle surveys showed super-agers also were more likely to report valuing close, meaningful relationships with people in their lives. “There are brain benefits of having good friends.”
If you watch the short video in the link, the gentleman declares that he did not have healthy habits per say, but is enjoying being free of any memory problems at the age of 89. *
Over our lifetimes as boomers and seniors, medical research has focused on a pharmaceutical cure. All the hopes and money were pinned on finding the right drug intervention for an incurable disease. About four years ago the medical research community started about two dozen smaller studies to look at lifestyle changes and dementia. It was whispered back then that maybe there was something you could do about delaying memory loss, but it was drown out by the many subsequent expensive failures in finding a pill/vaccine cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Part of it is not lumping all memory loss into one bundle. There are genetically based early onset types, there is vascular dementia and other body based dementia. But they started to find that even genetic types of dementia could be stalled off by challenging your brain with keeping with the healthy living mantra of good diet, more exercise and solid sleep.
Back in 2004, even the Mayo Clinic was short sighted in studying how long good lifestyle changes could slow down that process. They did not look beyond ten years in keeping memory loss back, as it was outside the scope of the study and reason to hope?
Meanwhile coming soon to a neurologist or mall near you a set of video games aimed at the neuro plasticity of your brain. The new mantra now is if onset of dementia can be delayed even five years, “the number of people with Alzheimer’s at age 65 in 2050 could be reduced by nearly six million people, according to a report published by the Alzheimer’s Association in 2010.”
So tie this all up in a bow or roll it into a ball and figure out where the responsibility lies. How much do you trust that the job will get done in our lifetime? The hard work of paying attention to what needs to be done to stay in the game is still on us.