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Local experts: Overall health, dementia are linked

The Daily Star - 3/24/2018

March 24--While supplements and brain-training exercises are often suggested to prevent Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, local doctors said Thursday that a healthy overall lifestyle is the best line of defense.

It is estimated that dementia affects one in six people over age 80. Past the age of 65, a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or other vascular dementias doubles roughly every five years, according to the Alzheimer's Society of the United Kingdom.

"I think everyone is rightfully very fearful of dementia. It's a frightful illness and robs people of their personalities," said Dr. Doug DeLong, chief of primary care and a specialist in geriatrics at Bassett Medical Center.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, which is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that impact memory, performance of daily activities and communication abilities. The disease becomes worse over time, and complications in the decline of brain function can lead to death.

As such, a tool to limit the development of dementia is a holy grail of medicine, DeLong said. There are no medications on the market that significantly slow its progression, and drug treatment for memory loss is only marginally effective.

DeLong recommends decreasing risk factors by staying active, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking or drinking alcohol and keeping cholesterol at a healthy level.

"Having social and family connections are important," as is recognizing depression, said Dr. Paul Deringer, head of neurology at Bassett. "Some cases of depression in the elderly population can look a lot like Alzheimer's."

A wave of new research suggests that social isolation has negative health impacts such as disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study published in BMJ Journals found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.

While damaged brain cells are the source of dementia, it can be caused by infections such as HIV, vascular diseases, stroke, depression and chronic drug use.

Deringer recommends vigorous exercise, and said that vitamin D may be helpful but the jury is still out on the effectiveness of multivitamins. Some of his patients take Prevagen, a brain health supplement, although it does not have clinical support for preventing dementia.

Predictive genetic testing is available to those who have a relative with a form of dementia and are concerned about inheriting it, but only a small percentage of dementias are hereditary. It is not a routine test and not generally recommended. Most instances of the disease are sporadic with no strong family history, Deringer said.

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .

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(c)2018 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.)

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