If you're like most of the people surveyed in a recent poll revealed by AARP, you're concerned about getting Alzheimer's disease. If so, then you're probably ready for some good news about keeping your brain sharp as you age.
Amazingly, a recent study in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine reveals that people are less likely to get Alzheimer's disease and dementia today than they were 20 years ago. The authors of the study credit this positive trend to improvements in lifestyle as well as ongoing education.
This is quite a breakthrough, as numbers of people getting this memory robbing illness are predicted to rise by The Alzheimer's Association from the current 5.4 million to as many as 20 million cases by 2050. Maybe their predictions were made before the most recent article was published, or perhaps it could still be accurate if people don't take the advice on living an Alzheimer's prevention lifestyle to heart.
Of perhaps greatest interest to me as president and medical director of The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation is the statement by the study's co-author Dr. Kenneth Langa, who said: "Our findings suggest that, even if we don't find a cure for Alzheimer's disease (meaning a magic bullet drug), there are lifestyle factors we can address to decrease our risk."
This notion is backed by two recent studies. The first, done at Albany University, suggests that Alzheimer's is a type of brain diabetes with bad blood sugar metabolism being the culprit. Moreover, a Swedish study revealed that women who have serious midlife stress such as divorce, death in the family, or work problems, have a 21 percent higher risk for Alzheimer's disease.
This new research is very important to me as for the past two decades my work has revolved around elucidating what we call the "4 Pillars of Alzheimer's Prevention." Indeed, way back in 1993, our foundation first discussed life style as a way to prevent Alzheimer's. I also revealed them in my best-selling book, Brain Longevity, published in 1997.
The Four Pillars are:
2. Stress management especially via yoga meditation is also is crucial to risk reduction. As noted above, stress increases the risk for Alzheimer's.
3. Physical and mental exercise is also critically important to maintain a sharp brain.
4. Finally, the development of psychological and spiritual well being has been shown to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's.
The Yin and Yang of Alzheimer's Prevention
The pursuit of a drug to end Alzheimer's goes on, as does our lifestyle research. Indeed, on Nov. 7, 2013, two very interesting meetings took place. It was not unlike the yin and yang of Alzheimer's prevention; two sides of the same coin.
In New York, a meeting was convened by the New York Academy of Sciences, which was primarily drug related and sponsored by a number of pharmaceutical companies. The meeting's focus, as can be seem below by its published agenda, was on trying to create new compounds that will help prevent and cure Alzheimer's disease, although results have certainly been elusive thus far.
Here is their published agenda:
This conference will convene leading industry, academic, and government stakeholders to discuss how to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's by 2025, by coordinating with governmental efforts to build research resources, reengineer our current drug development and evaluation systems, and identify innovative technologies and financing models. The outcome of this meeting will comprise a research agenda that will delineate the pathways needed to effectively treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease by 2025.
Coincidentally, on the same day, the ARPF held a webinar on how to maintain a sharp brain with age and prevent Alzheimer's disease through the lifestyle choices mentioned above. We had over 700 hundred registrations. If you'd like to watch the webinar please go here.
Yoga, Meditation and Alzheimer's Prevention
For over a decade, our main focus at the ARPF has centered on the second pillar: yoga and meditation. Our innovative research, conducted on highly stressed caregivers of dementia patients performing a simple singing meditation called Kirtan Kriya for 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks, has revealed a reversal of memory loss, an improvement in brain blood flow, a reduction in many risk factors for dementia such as depression and inflammation, and an increase in the so called immortality enzyme known as telomerase. This work was published in many prestigious medical journals, including The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
Beyond that, in a recent government funded five year study performed at Harvard Medical School, people under stress who practiced meditation were shown to be able to enhance many biological effects on their body and brain.
Further research on all of the four pillars of Alzheimer's prevention is ongoing and is proving to be positive. If that's the final analysis, then perhaps the search for an expensive and, as yet undeveloped, drug to prevent Alzheimer's may be unnecessary.
In any event, while we're waiting, let's take care of our brain. It's the only one we've got.
Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. is the President and Medical Director of the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation. He is a leading researcher in the study of meditation and memory, and he is the author of the bestselling books "Brain Longevity" and "Meditation as Medicine."