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Alzheimer's disease: Reduce the risk

If you think you or a loved one is experiencing more serious cognitive function issues, including memory problems, it is important to see your doctor.

If you think you or a loved one is experiencing more serious cognitive function issues, including memory problems, it is important to see your doctor.

Some mild forgetfulness is normal as we age. But if you think you or a loved one is experiencing more serious cognitive function issues, including memory problems, it is important to see your doctor.

No one test can determine whether someone has a dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. To establish a diagnosis, physicians will rely on a thorough medical history, physical and mental exams, laboratory tests and a detailed description of any changes in thinking, function and behavior. For further assessment and treatment, your doctor might refer you to a neurologist, such as one of the three physicians at Lawrence Neurology Specialists, an LMH-affiliated practice.

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Lawrence Memorial Hospital is a major sponsor of WellCommons.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org), dementia is a broad term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with your daily life and eventual performance of everyday activities. Dementia is caused by physical changes in your brain that typically have developed and progressed during several years. Although there are several known types of dementia, 60 to 80 percent are Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.

Some risk factors for dementia, such as advancing age and genetics, cannot be changed. The National Institute on Aging (nia.nih.gov) notes that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years after age 65. In addition, scientists have found genetic links to both early-onset (appears before age 50) and late-onset (typically appears after age 60) Alzheimer’s disease.

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Two upcoming programs in Lawrence will focus on Alzheimer’s disease:

• The June 13 Lawrence Memorial Hospital Senior Supper and Seminar on “Helping to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and the LEAP! Program” will feature Richard Sosinski, MD, of Internal Medicine Group, and Rachel Sandoval, MS RDN, LD, of the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center. A few seats remain. Supper begins at 5 p.m. and costs $5.50. The free seminar begins at 6 p.m. Call LMH Connect Care, 785-505-5800, to make a seating reservation.

• This fall, Lawrence Memorial Hospital and community partner Neuvant House will sponsor a series taught by the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center. This six-week program — called LEAP! (Lifestyle Enrichment for Alzheimer’s Prevention) — will be at Neuvant House on six consecutive Wednesdays, beginning Sept. 20. The fee is $99. Registration opens in mid-July at lmh.org, or by calling LMH Connect Care, 785-505-5800.

Additionally, if you are interested learning more about ongoing studies conducted by the KU Medical Center’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, visit KUAlzheimers.org, or call 913-588-0555.

“Although there are many promising treatments for Alzheimer’s disease under active investigation, currently available treatments are limited in their effectiveness,” said Richard Sosinski, MD, of The Internal Medicine Group, an LMH-affiliated practice. “Therefore, adopting measures aimed at preventing or delaying the advancement of dementia — such as making dietary and lifestyle changes — (is) very important.”

Researchers, including those at the University of Kansas Medical Center, continue to explore how diet, exercise, cognitive stimulation and chronic diseases may influence your brain health. More research is needed to fully understand the impact that lifestyle may have on preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease. However, each of the following is important for your health and well-being — and could benefit brain health.

• Exercise. Studies have shown that exercise improves blood flow and increases proteins key for memory and learning. Both aerobic exercise and strength training may have cognitive benefits and help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

• Eat a healthy diet. Several studies indicate that certain foods can help keep your brain healthy, and others may adversely affect brain function. These latter include unhealthy fats (such as trans fats) and refined carbohydrates (such as white sugar). Brain-healthy foods include lots of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats (such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts). In research studies, the Mediterranean diet — which is rich in vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, whole grains, fish, olive oil and other healthy fats — has shown promise in decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. For more about the Mediterranean diet, go to heart.org.

• Keep your brain active. Studies have shown staying cognitively active during your life is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Consider volunteering, working longer, playing an instrument, reading, visiting museums, going to lectures, and playing games or solving puzzles.

• Manage chronic diseases. It also is important to follow your physician’s advice on weight loss, stopping smoking, and taking prescription medications appropriately to keep chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes under control.

— Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, MA, RN, is community education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach. She can be reached at aynsley.anderson@lmh.org.

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