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Health News / National News

Friday, 2 February, 2007 6:16 PM

EXCLUSIVE: Ways You Can Delay and Reduce Your Chances of Getting Alzheimer's Disease
by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

According to a brain expert, there are several steps you can take right now to put off or even lessen your chance of getting Alzheimer's Disease. The disease affects an estimated 4.5 million people in America alone. That number is expected to rise over the next few decades. Follow these steps and you could be adding years to your life.

Alvaro Fernandez is a brain expert from San Francisco. He has been living in California for the past nine years. He is originally from Spain. Fernandez is the co-founder and CEO of SharpBrains.com and the creator of the college course "Exercise Our Brains."

Alzheimer's Disease is a form of dimentia. It is a gradual process that can go on for eight years or as many as twenty years, depending on the person. It can start in your early 50's. However, it is more common in people over the age of 70.

"Alzheimer's creates the appearance of plaques and tangles in the brain. These chemical substances affect mental functioning," Fernandez said. "It starts to destroy neurons and connections."

He said it is important to remember that there are billions of neurons in our brains. The brain makes up 5% of our total body weight. People with the beginning stages of the disease suffer in thinking abilities. They often become confused. Alzheimer's Disease is a very slow and gradual process. It's not something that happens overnight.

There is no treatment for Alzheimer's Disease yet. However, there is a lot of research being done. Fernandez says there are four key concepts to understand.

  1. Nutrition -- Pay attention to what you eat. Our brain uses nutrients. Select healthier food choices.
  2. Physical Exercise -- It helps in the creation of new neurons.
  3. Stress Management -- It reduces your rate of getting Alzheimer's Disease. It builds brain reserves.
  4. Mental Exercise -- It creates neurons and helps you live longer.

As we said before, there is a lot of research on the disease. Fernandez believes that researchers will eventually find a way to destroy tangles without hurting the brain. This will slow the development of Alzheimer's.

Stem cells are also going to help find a cure. They are not the only solution to the disease. Stem cells will benefit the patient by creating new neurons as well. "Eventually, they will die if we don't put them to work. After a few days." The expert says that mental exercise is needed to create the connections between the new neurons.

What about crossword puzzles and math problems? Fernandez does not believe in crossword puzzles. He says people should focus on a more comprehensive workout for the brain. However, he believes in math problems because they involve working memory. They require you to remember numbers and how to combine them.

There are three things you must do in order to delay or reduce your chance of getting Alzheimer's. First, you must learn new things. Secondly, you will need to incorporate variety into your life to exercise all areas of the brain. Finally, the level of difficulty has to increase. Just like at the gym, you must work out by adding more weight. The brain is a muscle and it needs to be stimulated.

Fernandez says there are computer programs that can offer lots of brain exercise. They will measure to see what level your at and provide activities to work out your brain further. He also believes that playing video games can keep your brain stimulated. Try learning a new musical instrument or a foreign language. You can also try tap dancing.

The expert created a college course called "Exercise Our Brains." It is being offered at universities in California right now. It will be expanded to other states during the summer. The class will provide you with information about brain exercises, describe how to use the exercise machines and give you a chance to work with personal brain trainers. It is an eight hour class.

The life expectancy for someone with Alzheimer's Disease is very long. It can be difficult for doctors to diagnose at first. They will use cognitive tests to determine if a patient has the disease or not. An individual with the disease can live for 10 to 20 years.

The stage just before Alzheimer's begins is called mild cognitive impairment. When an individual becomes stressed, it puts them closer to this stage. However, if you exercise your brain, you can get out of this stage temporarily.

"Baby boomers want to keep working. That will ensure health care and mental ability with a new job," Fernandez said. "We can improve our ability to handle stress."

What are some of the risk factors for Alzheimer's Disease? If you are over 70 years old, your chances are a lot higher. If you have a lower level of education, you are more likely to get the disease. The reason is because of less exposure to mental stimulation.

If you are in the beginning stages of the disease, it is possible to reverse the effects. In the beginning, you are still aware of what's going on mentally. Your brain can still create neurons and connections between them. However, after two or three years of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, there is not much you can do. There is no cure for Alzheimer's at this time.

Fernandez stressed that the brain is used for more than just memory. Most often, people need to improve their attention. There are many different parts to the brain. One repetitive activity will not help your brain. Individuals must do several different brain exercises to decrease their chances of getting Alzheimer's.

Forty years ago, there were no fitness clubs. People now have exercise machines at their home. The brain is part of the body. It is a muscle that requires frequent exercise to keep it working properly.

Watch what you eat. Choose healthier foods. Remember to do an adequate amount of physical exercise. Manage your stress. Exercise your brain. Learn new things, incorporate variety and increase the difficulty of your activities. You could be adding years to your life.

For more information, visit SharpBrains.com or the Alzheimer's Association.

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