At a recent Alzheimer’s Association event in Chicago, I was surprised to learn that we can make lifestyle choices that can push back against the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. David Bennett of Rush Medical Center reported that based on yearly interviews and later autopsy of participants in the 2,400 person Religious Orders Studies, there are people who have the Alzheimer’s Disease cerebral plaques and tangles but do not experience AD dementia, and/or have a delayed rate of decline.
Last weekend I was blessed to attend the Chicago preview showing of the HBO special documentary entitled “The Alzheimer’s Project.” This is an exciting joint project of the Alzheimer’s Association and HBO which is designed to give us all new insight and hope that we can push back against Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). For those of us in Chicago the documentary was even more personal, in that it included a live interview with Dr. David Bennett of Chicago’s own Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center. The medical staff and researchers at Rush Hospital are one of the premier teams investigating Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Bennett is the director of a large group study entitled “The Religious Order Project.”
“The Alzheimer’s Project” focused on some individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s, which affects people who are younger than 65. We learned several new and startling things. Most people are aware that Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disease wherein brain function is progressively destroyed by the emergence of plaques and tangles. Surprisingly, there are individuals whose autopsy reveals the presence of the AD plaques and tangles, but the individual did not exhibit memory loss during their lives—some people continue to function in a normal manner. This phenomenon is not yet understood but is currently being referred to as “cognitive reserve.” The presence of this cognitive reserve gives researchers a hopeful avenue of new investigation.
In addition, part of the question-and-answer portion of the program focused on current drug therapies. Today there is not a drug which cures or delays the disease. Our current drug therapies are limited to enhancing the remaining brain function during the continuing degenerative progression of the Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Bennett told the audience in Chicago that there are numerous medical research and drug trials going on right now which demonstrate new possibilities to not only delay but possibly create a vaccine against Alzheimer’s Disease. There is a high probability that medical science will have these enhanced weapons available to the public within the next five to ten years. This is great news of a brighter view of aging for millions of people who would otherwise face the prospect of AD.
If you missed this wonderful program, you can watch each of the documentary films individually online, by streaming them to your computer through HBO’s website. I highly recommend that you click here to see all of the resources that you can download and stream from the HBO program entitled “The Alzheimer’s Project.”