What Alzheimer's Research Teaches us About Life

A new study suggests that women who experience stressful events such as job loss, divorce or bereavement during midlife are more likely to get Alzheimer’s when they get older.  This study confirms what I’ve come to realize about Alzheimer’s and dementia, but we’ll get to that later.

Current Study Details

Swedish researchers studied 800 women who were either in their late 30s, mid-40s or 50s; at the beginning of the study, 1 in 4 of the women had experienced some traumatic event.  Researchers continued to follow the women at regular intervals during the following decades; by the end of the study 425 had died and 183 had dementia.  Although the research team reports that more analysis needs to be forthcoming in order to determine if the link is associative or causal, they suggest that possibly stress hormones somehow trigger brain alterations.

If you’ve noticed, there have been a plethora of studies on Alzheimer’s over the past decade or so; this is due to the fact that there is no cure for the disease, yet as baby boomers age the Alzheimer’s population is going to increase exponentially.  As it stands, if there isn’t a cure found the burden on the medical community and on society in general will be profound.

These links tell us more about living a full and healthy life than they disclose about Alzheimer’s.  I’ll explain by giving a rundown of some of the more recent studies:

  • A study conducted by the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests that although keeping mentally fit may ward off Alzheimer’s by months or even years, once it hits, it progressed harder and faster among those with robust mental acumen
  • Another study by Rush University Medical Center discovered that all mental decline and memory loss and age related demential is attributed to  beta amyloid plaques present in the brain.  These plaques and tangles are prevalent in Alzheimer’s patients, and to a lesser extent those who experience age related memory loss
  • In 2010, the journal Neurology published a study that discovered an associative link between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s risk
  • In 2004, a study determined that diabetes in midlife is linked to both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia
  • In 2010 the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College in London discovered that the protein clusterin is linked to the severity, rapidity of progression and brain atrophy associated with memory loss
  • The University of Massachusetts Medical School published a study showing an associative link between depression and Alzheimer’s
  • A Swedish Study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Honolulu in 2010 showed that an obesity gene variant is linked associatively with an increased Alzheimer’s risk
  • Researchers analyzing data from the Framingham, Massachusetts Cardiovascular Risk Study discovered that people who drink tea have a 37% lower risk of Alzheimer’s, while those who engage in moderate to intense physical exercise most days of the weak are 45% less likely to get the disease.

Other studies show that having a solid social network (not the online kind, but real, supportive relationsips) reduces Alzheimer’s, as does volunteering.

There are many links between different lifetyle choices and Alzheimer’s, right? Interestingly, the National Institutes of Health published a report in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine (June 2010) stating that there’s not enough evidence to support that lifestyle changes actually decrease Alzheimer’s risk.  By lifestyle changes, they are referring to beginning an exercise program, playing games to enhance mental acumen and eating a healthy diet.

But what about all of those studies linking healthy habits to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s?  Yes, in fact, there are associative links between lifestyle choices and a decreased or increased risk of Alzheimer’s, but there’s no research to support a causal link.  In other words, people who work at remaining mentally sharp are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s; but why that is, is still a mystery.  Is there a missing, as of yet undiscovered X factor that explains all of these associative links?

Possibly; but regardless of whether or not these links are only associative or if they are in fact, causal, what the research shows us is that living an emotionally rich and physically healthy lifestyle is a win-win.  Call it serendipity, good kharma or synchronicity, there’s something very “right” about a life well lived, don’t you think?

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