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Attacking Alzheimer's
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


June 20, 2005

Alzheimer's disease has always had a certain inevitability in attacking its victims, but that may be not so true anymore as scientists begin making promising inroads on this exceptionally cruel disease.

Finding cures and treatments is assuming growing importance as America ages, with the 4.5 million victims today expected to nearly triple by mid-century. Alzheimer's makes victims of the families, too, as a loved one's mental faculties decline but the physical health remains good.

Former President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994 at age 83 but he lived another decade, with the last years being especially unfortunate. Now former first lady Nancy Reagan is the best-known backer of stem-cell research in the effort to find a cure.

A cure is not yet in sight, but an important step in that direction - early detection - is, according to reports at an Alzheimer's-prevention conference in Washington.

A decline in the energy level of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, can predict the onset of Alzheimer's nine years before the first symptoms appear. Another test for low levels of an Alzheimer's-associated protein, beta amyloid, can show a three-times-greater chance of developing dementia within five years. And a $60 million study is being launched in a bid to detect it even earlier.

This proposes the classical medical conundrum about detection of an incurable disease: Would you want to be told?

The conference was told about two new drug therapies that hold hope for slowing or moderating the disease. In the meantime, there are lifestyle changes to consider.

A study of Japanese-Americans found that those who drank fruit or vegetable juice at least three times a week were four times less likely to develop Alzheimer's than those who did not.

Another study of identical twins - one with the disease, one without - found that such factors as strokes, less education and gum disease outweigh genetics in a predisposition to Alzheimer's.

Possible preventive factors include exercise, moderate alcohol consumption and a lively social and intellectual life. Not a bad way to live until a cure comes along. Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to slip out for some tomato juice.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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