An Alzheimer's success story that defies the odds

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

It's the rare week where we don't see a breathless story offering new hope in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Sadly, these revelations tend to have a remarkably short shelf life.

The reality is more than 100 clinical trials and 200 experimental drugs have come up empty. And the best-available medications can only temporarily slow its lethal progression — if that. Meanwhile, the ranks of those with Alzheimer's continues to escalate, with no end in sight.

So I was heartened to see a recent study that actually seems to have generated measurable success. Writing in the April Scientific American, researchers Miia Kivipelto and Krister Hakansson report that a commonsense approach to living may be able to accomplish what boatloads of promising meds have not.

“We now have fairly good evidence that a combination of improved diet, physical exercise, mental and social stimulation, and management of cardiovascular problems can improve cognition,” they wrote.

They also found that participants with a gene variant (APOE e4) that puts them at higher risk for Alzheimer's seemed to benefit even more. 

To be sure, discovering an improvement in mental functioning implies but does not necessarily prove that lifestyle adjustments can amount to an inoculation. And it must be noted that the disease appears to develop over the course of at least a decade or two before symptoms become apparent. So as investigators always like to say, more research is needed.

But here's the thing: All of these interventions are advisable on their own merits. For at the very least, they are going to help people live healthier lives. So let's hear it for this ounce of prevention. It seems to be performing far better than the many pounds of attempted cure.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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