Preventing Memory Loss and Taking Charge of Your Medical Care

“…there are actually several types of treatable conditions that can be causing memory problems.”

This week we explore some interesting discussion that explains reasons for staying physically and mentally active and ways to help “ward,” off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. An exciting shift in healthcare moves towards a more patient involved system, we must grasp our own abilities to do what we must to stay healthier and live longer. While memory loss is natural for every body, like “where did I put my keys,” it is important to know when it may becoming a problem that will effect your life. Read into this weeks blog post as we are graced with Dr. Leverenz and Dr. Ashford as they share their wisdom with us!

Mike McIntyre :

Dr. James Leverenz from the Cleveland clinic will be joining us.

Welcome back to the Sound of Ideas, we are talking about Alzheimer’s disease today.  You may have seen last night Julianne Moore won the best actress Oscar for portraying an early onset Alzheimer’s victim in Still Alice. We are talking about the disease this morning both early onset and the more usual  onset which is mostly with elderly people and the idea that the rates of Alzheimer’s are expected to go up significantly as the population ages.

Personal healthcare

Photo Credit: Aflcio2008

Dr. J Wesson Ashford is with us as well, Chair of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Memory Screening Advisory Board.

Lets get a question for the doctors and our experts here as well lets start with Scott in Westpark, Scott welcome to the show.

Scott :

Thanks Mike I have a question, is Alzheimer’s more prevalent in the United States than it is globally and if so why? A second part of that question would be, is there a way that you can ward this off by keeping your brain more active in older life?  I will take your answer off-air.

Mike McIntyre :

Thank you for the questions:  Dr. Leverenz, US versus other countries…

Dr. Leverenz :

Well as best we can tell this is an equal opportunity disease, so to speak, and it seems to effect all populations as we look across various ethnic and racial groups.  I think there are some populations of patients even within the United States, I think the data on African Americans is somewhat limited but as best we can tell its fairly similar across multiple populations in terms of frequency.

Mike McIntyre :

A second part of his question is one so many people ask, can you exercise your brain or take a vitamin or do something to ward off Alzheimer’s?

Dr. Leverenz :

I think that is a great question and I think the data is pretty strong now that actual physical activity can definitely be helpful and while it cant prevent absolutely that you will get the disease it definitely helps in warding it off. There is some evidence that mental activity may be helpful as well so I generally encourage people to be both physically and mentally active particularly as they get older.

brain health, exercise

Photo Credit: SuperFantastic

Mike McIntyre :

What about somebody who comes in and had been diagnosed?  As I understand it cant be cured and the literature that has been put out says it cant really even be slowed but is there some hope that activity after diagnosis might be helpful?

Dr. Leverenz :

I think there is, I encourage all of my patients to be physically and mentally active and there are a number of ways that can be helpful, there maybe some direct effects on the brain, we know for example physical activity increases certain brain growth factors that are healthy for the brain.  But we also know that when people have a disease like Alzheimer’s disease and they get another disorder, say one linked to lack of activity like heart disease or stroke that they don’t do very well with those so staying in generally good health is going to keep your Alzheimer’s, as best we can, at bay.

Mike McIntyre :

Dr. Wes Ashford how do I know the difference between just being a forgetful person and somebody that ought to be worried about this kind of thing or whether its an elderly person or my 17 year old son who seems to never be able to find his keys. You can get to a point where you worry about this disease like “oh my gosh,” is this an early indication of somebody at a very young age or myself I forget things all the time is it somehow an indication that I will one day develop Alzheimer’s and I wonder what your thoughts are on that and maybe put some of the fears to rest.

Dr. Ashford :

I think fear is something we are going to certainly address straight on. One of the things that was said before is that there is 5 million people with dementia in this country is attributed to Alzheimer’s disease and there is a phase before this, and some of our studies have indicated, for 10 years before that actual diagnosis you can be having memory problems. So there is not just 5 million people with Alzheimer’s and dementia there is another 5 million people that are developing Alzheimer’s disease that have the memory concerns that you are talking about and so we believe at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America that it is very important to recognize that there is this problem so you can be proactive. Start your exercise program early, start your mental stimulation early, there is an association with less Alzheimer’s disease and more education so even if you need to go back and get some late adult education to stimulate your brain, as Dr. Leverenz said, increase your activity. We think that taking a proactive stance to this, getting to National Memory Screening Day, which we run through the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America we have a very good memory test online called MemTrax at You can start monitoring your memory and seeing if you really have a memory problem early on and really start doing the sort of things Dr. Leverenz talked about to do your best at least slow this down but the earlier you start slowing this down the better.

Memory game

Mike McIntyre :

I see often online that there are little tests like minicog or the Montreal cognitive assessment there are all sorts of ways to check your memory. I wonder is this smart to do that and just check yourself or just use that when you have had memory issues that effect your life?

Dr. Ashford :

There are at least a hundred such tests as this, we developed something called The Brief Alzheimer’s Screen, which we use along with the mini-cog on National Memory Screening Day. Things like the Montreal assessment, the St. Louise assessment, and an old fashion one called the Mini Mental Status Exam are really best done in a doctors office or by someone who is trained and can talk to you about it. The idea of having brief screens is very interesting but, can you do this at home? It has been very controversial but I believe with the way we are going with medical care people are going to have to be more and more proactive in taking care of their own issues and do their own screening, that’s why we have MemTrax, to try to help people to follow their own memory and its not just a question of , is your memory bad today, or is it good today, the question is what is the trajectory over a period of say 6 months or a year, are you getting worse? That’s what we need to identify as being the critical thing, that if you have a problem than you need to go see your clinician because there are actually several types of treatable conditions that can be causing memory problems: B12 deficiency, thyroid deficiency, stroke, and many other things that need to be addressed.

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