Rebecca Doig is 31, Pregnant and has Alzheimer's



The Alzheimer's 'Fifteen-Year Window' Could Be a Game-Changer

I'M TURNING 50 this year, and like most of my friends, I'm approaching the birthday with a mix of humor ("When can I start collecting Social Security?") and denial ("Didn't I just turn 39?"). But for me, there's an extra shadow looming over the milestone. My mom, now in her 70s, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease 4 years ago, and since then she's slipped from being a sharp-witted woman who knew every answer on trivia night to someone who isn't sure what year it is. And although I don't know if my grandmother was ever diagnosed, I believe she suffered from dementia before she died in her 70s. And, of course, the disease has a genetic component, though scientists are still debating its significance (see "Inside the Alzheimer's Gene," opposite page).

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(Cut your risk of Alzheimer's in half with the breakthrough plan in !) 

With Alzheimer's, over time, the billions of neurons and synapses in your brain that let you think, remember, and form words lose the ability to transmit information between one another. Scientists believe this is due to the presence of two types of rogue protein—one that forms tangles and another that creates plaques in the cells. The changes in the brain that lead to the disease may start as long as 15 years before you walk into a neurologist's office complaining of memory loss and confusion, says Stephen Rao, a neuropsychologist at Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. (This could be the earliest sign of Alzheimer's—years before a doctor diagnoses it.) "There may be some subtle cognitive changes that happen years before the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment," he says. Every time I draw a blank on a new friend's name, I wonder: Is this a sign? (Besides forgetting names, early indications include getting confused easily, repeatedly asking the same questions, and getting lost in familiar places.)

MORE: 7 Reasons Why You're Forgetful That Have Nothing To Do With Alzheimer's

This is where the good news comes in. In the past, doctors could see those protein deposits only by examining the brain after death—but now, thanks to advances in technology such as PET scans and MRI (plus newer tests in development that look for biomarkers in urine), doctors may soon see the incremental changes at earlier stages, perhaps even in patients as young as 50.

And knowing what's going on 15 years before the onset of Alzheimer's can be extremely useful. During that window, Rao found, certain lifestyle changes can slow or even halt the disease's progress. So, regardless of my odds, I'm now viewing this next decade and a half as a time to bolster my defenses.

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Here's what the latest research tells us we can all do to take charge of our fates.

prevent alzheimer's
Andrea Cobb

Start Exercising

If you're spending your days zoning out in front of Homeland reruns, one of the best things you can do for your brain involves getting your body moving.

Exercise helps reduce obesity, diabetes, and hypertension—all factors that raise the risk of Alzheimer's—but the latest research shows that being physically active at least 3 days a week also has huge brain benefits, says David Merrill, director of the Cognitive Health Clinic at UCLA Health. "Physical exercise triggers the release of proteins and signaling molecules that promote the creation and maintenance of the synaptic connections between brain cells," he says. "Even more intriguing is that exercise can trigger the birth of new brain cells." In the past, scientists thought people were limited to whatever brain cells they were born with and could only lose them, Merrill says.

MORE: 8 Things You Need To Know About The Common Form Of Dementia That's Not Alzheimer's

Inside the Alzheimer's Gene

The gene-testing company 23andme.com recently won FDA approval to test for the APOE e4 gene, which can indicate an increased risk of Alzheimer's. Here are four things to know.

A positive test result doesn't mean you'll get Alzheimer's.
Having the APOE e4 genetic marker only indicates an increased risk. One variation signals a three-times-greater risk of developing the disease, says Stephen Rao, a neuropsychologist at Cleveland Clinic. Another combination could mean you're as much as 15 times more at risk. But many who have the gene will not develop Alzheimer's. (Here's why one man got tested for the Alzheimer's gene in his 30s.) 

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It's only one puzzle piece.
Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, obesity, and depression may also be parts of the picture, says Rao.

It might spur positive change.
The argument for testing is that if you find you're at greater risk, you'll likely be more motivated to make changes that can delay symptoms.

Consult an expert.
As with any type of genetic testing, you'll want a medical professional to explain the results. "Many people just consult Google," says Cyrus Raji, a neuroradiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, "and that gives them just enough information to interpret results incorrectly and do harm to themselves."

Exercise seems to slow brain shrinkage. In research done at Cleveland Clinic, Rao and his colleagues used MRI to measure hippocampal volume in adults at risk of the disease: The sedentary ones saw a 3% decrease in volume over 18 months, but the active group had no loss in brain volume.

PREVENTION PREMIUM: Maria Shriver Weighs In On Alzheimer's Surprising Stats Concerning Women

prevent alzheimer's

Andrea Cobb

Eat Healthier

Another major change you should make is to start avoiding the saturated fats and simple carbs of the typical American diet. Instead, learn to love the Mediterranean style of eating, focusing on fish, leafy greens, berries, whole grains, and olive oil. In fact, if you follow the MIND diet—a variation of the Mediterranean diet that zeroes in on foods that promote cognitive health—you may drop your Alzheimer's risk even further. One recent study found that those who adhere closely to the MIND diet have a 53% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's.

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Cyrus Raji, a neuroradiologist specializing in Alzheimer's at the University of California, San Francisco, points out that omega-3 fatty acids, which you can get from both diets by eating salmon, walnuts, and soybeans, deliver powerful brain benefits, such as helping to build the cerebral cortex, the part of the organ responsible for language, attention, and other tasks.

MORE: 5 Proven Strategies For Keeping Your Mind Sharp And Fending Off Alzheimer's

This cedar plank salmon is packed with brain-boosting nutrients: 

Get Enough Z's

One compelling new area of study is the role of sleep in the development of Alzheimer's. Groundbreaking research at the University of Rochester shows that during shut-eye, the space between brain cells increases, allowing the glymphatic system to flush out toxins (including the amyloids associated with Alzheimer's) that build up while you're awake. "Getting the optimal amount of sleep is so powerful, it can't be overstated," says Dena Dubal, an assistant professor of neurology at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center. She also points out that interrupted sleep due to chronic sleep apnea is connected to an increased risk of Alzheimer's. (Here are 100 simple strategies to sleep better every night.) 

Practicing good sleep hygiene—going to bed and rising at the same times each day; avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and electronics before bed; keeping your bedroom dark and cool—can help with sleep problems. Seeing a sleep specialist to deal with apnea, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances can also be useful.

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Gab With Your Neighbors

That weekly game of bridge or pinochle is more than an enjoyable way to pass the time. A Kaiser Permanente study found that seniors with friends and family who called, visited, or e-mailed regularly were less likely to develop dementia than those who had weaker social ties, and a recent Dutch meta-review found that loneliness and lack of social contact were as closely tied to the risk of dementia as physical inactivity and depression are.

Dubal believes the benefits of spending time with friends may be credited to brain cells that form stronger and more lasting connections during social encounters. Whatever the reason, it's clear that joining a book club, making regular calls to friends, and even chatting with the waitress who serves you coffee can only help.

MORE: This Is What It's Like To Care For A Parent With Alzheimer's

Beat Back Stress

If you're feeling tense about work, politics, or your child's postcollege job prospects, it's crucial to find a way to dial it down. That might be through meditation, a yoga practice, or listening to music—whatever makes you calmer and happier.

A large body of research shows that the stress hormone cortisol can affect the hippocampus, says Linda Mah, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Scientists have found that stress also affects the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function and one of the structures affected by Alzheimer's. Stress is known to decrease amounts of klotho, a hormone that keeps toxins in the brain—including the ones that lead to Alzheimer's—in check. (Try these one-minute stress tips to relax.) 

This research, combined with behavior changes, could lead to real, meaningful results. "If we can delay the onset of Alzheimer's by 5 years, we'll cut the number of people with the disease in half," says Rao.

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I'm already a healthy eater, but I recently pledged to go for three walks a week, start riding my bike, and take Zumba again. I'm also sleeping full nights and cutting back a busy work schedule. The best gift I can give myself in my 50s is the chance to stay healthy and independent in my 60s, 70s, and beyond.






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Date: 13.12.2018, 01:53 / Views: 51435