The annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference was held last week in Toronto, Canada. There is more excitement about this disease than ever, as researchers get closer to much improved treatments.
Many experts think treatment will work better in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, so many studies are directed towards early detection of the disease. Here is a summary of some of the top presentations at the Conference.
Alzheimer’s may not discriminate by gender
Researchers have long been puzzled why almost 2/3 of all cases of Alzheimer’s occur in women. A study suggested that the incidence actually might be about equal in men and women; the problem is that the disease may not be so well recognized, and therefore under diagnosed, in men.
The Mayo Clinic researchers believe that men more commonly present with symptoms other than memory loss. Men, who may present with symptoms earlier, may show behavioral changes or movement or speech changes much sooner than they show memory changes. Before memory changes are apparent, the diagnosis is hard to make.
Certain occupations have lower risk
One presentation found that certain occupations had a higher or lower risk. People who engage in work that is more “complex” were found to be protected somewhat from Alzheimer’s. Occupations with this lower risk include doctors, psychologists, lawyers, teachers, and engineers, whose work involves complex thought processing. Occupations with higher risk of the disease include laborer, cashier, machine operator, and grocery store shelf stocker. People that mostly just took orders from others had a higher risk.
The researchers believe that the more complex occupations may help protect the brain from the damage inflicted by a “Western diet”. This diet increases the risk of Alzheimer’s, and includes red meat, processed foods, white bread, white potatoes, and sugary foods.
New insight on prevention
If you don’t have a “complex” occupation, another study carried some good news. It showed that people who have complex social interactions also are less likely to get Alzheimer’s. So if your job is not “complex”, you can compensate for that by having deep relationships with others, particularly interactions where you are helping or “mentoring” another person. (Avoiding the Western diet may also help.)
Personality changes may appear first
A new condition, called “mild behavioral impairment”, may come years before Alzheimer’s, and includes some of the personality changes we disused above with men who present with unusual symptoms.
This new condition also includes symptoms of sadness, disorientation, panic episodes, aggressiveness or argumentativeness, stubbornness, hoarding behavior, and substance abuse.
This study suggests that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s be considered if an older person presents with any of these symptoms for at least 6 months, without other obvious causes. If these individuals are identified early they may respond better to treatment. Seeing a neurologist is the best way to have testing for Alzheimer’s.
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