JUPITER, Fla. - It's the fastest growing health threat. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Two out of three people who get the disease are women. What is it? Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Katie Prince says there were signs something was wrong with her mom, but 13 years ago no one in her family thought it was Alzheimer’s disease. "I think because we didn't know what to look for, we thought of it as she's just getting older," she said.
Mother's Day was the three year anniversary of her mom, Pam's, death. She was 67.
Katie Prince says, "I can even remember on her deathbed, she was still rubbing my back like she did when I was a little girl. She might not be able to do the things she once could but there was still mom inside of her."
Matt Goodrich knows Katie's pain. His grandmother had dementia and passed away 3 months ago. His grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease. He cared for them both in the final years of their lives.
"I really feel like you lose a person twice. you lose them to the disease and then a second time when they pass away," Goodrich said.
From her lab at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Dr. Corinne Lasmezas is trying to find a cure.
Of the five million people in the U.S. who have Alzheimer’s, two-thirds are women.
It's still a mystery why more women get the disease. Dr. Lasmezas says living longer is one reason. Hormonal changes might be another.
The research she is doing right now will help identify the disease 15 to 20 years before symptoms appear.
"Given what we're doing in my lab and what others are doing in the scientific community, I think drugs that slow down the disease process could be in clinical trial for patients in about 3-5 years," she says.
A family history of Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes and, of course, just getting older, all are risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Corinne Lasmezas says, "Right now what we can do is reduce our risks and for that there is no magic pill."
Here are some ways to decrease your risk according to the Alzheimer’s Association:
Break a sweat: Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates heart rate and increases blood flow. Studies have found that physical activity reduces risk of cognitive decline.
Hit the books: Formal education will help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Take a class at a local college, community center or online.
Butt out: Smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
Stump yourself: Challenge your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Play games of strategy, like "bridge".
Buddy up: Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Find ways to be part of your local community or share activities with friends and family.
Take care of your mental health: Some studies link depression with cognitive decline, so seek treatment if you have depression, anxiety or stress.
Catch some ZZZ's: Not getting enough sleep may result in problems with memory and thinking.
Fuel up right: Eat a balanced diet that is higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Heads up: Brain injury can raise risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt and use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike.
Follow your heart: Risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke - obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes - negatively impact your cognitive health.
Dr. Corinne Lasmezas says, "It's more important to have the right life balance . Eat right, physical exercise and mental exercise as a whole will reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease."
What scientists need most of all is money for continued research.
There have been great advances in the field of Alzheimer’s disease in the past 10 years. And as Dr. Lasmezas told me drugs that can stop the progression and indeed prevent Alzheimer’s are in the near future!
By the way, this research will benefit all neurodegenerative diseases; Alzheimer’s, dementia as well as Parkinson’s disease and A.L.S.