Well, it’s the New Year, so it’s time I say it again. I need to start getting some aerobic exercise. My son has made good use of our basement bicycle, but I pass it by, albeit with a twinge of guilt. Too hard to adjust. No time. I do my yoga. My weight is not a problem. Blah, blah, blah. I know that getting the blood moving is something that is good for my heart and brain and it’s time I start doing something about it.
Now, there’s more information to give me a kick. The article, “Brain starvation as we age appears to trigger Alzheimer’s,” tells of a study written about in the Dec. 26 issue of the journal Neuron. Robert Vassar, lead study author and a professor of cell and molecular biology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, discovered during the study that a key brain protein is altered when the brain has a deficient supply of energy. Vassar is quoted in the article as saying, “This finding is significant because it suggests that improving blood flow to the brain might be an effective therapeutic approach to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s.”
Vassar goes on to say, “A simple preventive strategy people can follow to improve blood flow to the brain is getting exercise, reducing cholesterol and managing hypertension…If people start early enough, maybe they can dodge the bullet.”
The article continues with information about using increased blood flow as a therapeutic measure for people who already have symptoms. Certainly, it’s not proven that exercise alone is going to cure someone who has been diagnosed with dementia. The article suggests that vasodilators, which are medications that increase blood flow, may help deliver glucose and oxygen to the brain may be of use to those with symptoms, as well. However, exercise, nutrition, new drugs - all of these things used together may actually be showing some promise of improving the lives of those in the early stages of the disease.
While this information isn’t entirely new - I’ve even written about the benefits to the brain from the increased blood flow generated by regular exercise in “Moderate Exercise Can’t Hurt - Might Help,” on ouralzheimers.com, and it’s been written about in countless health publications - it’s great to see once more that something under our control is being proven to help at least some people.
Such mundane information isn’t nearly as exciting as a one shot, magic bullet cure for Alzheimer’s, It throws back on us the responsibility for doing the best we can for our own health. However that may be, it sure sounds better than what we’ve been hearing through the years about Alzheimer’s - that once diagnosed, it’s all downhill.
There is hope in these studies, even if they are just reminding us to do what is good for us, anyway. And hope is important to everyone. While scientists look for ways to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s disease, every little bit of information that may improve our quality of life, whether we are a person caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a person a risk for Alzheimer’s (all of us), hope is important.
So, even though it seems like baby steps, news that there are things we can do to help ourselves and our loved ones stay healthy in all ways is a good way to start off the New Year.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.