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How to keep Alzheimer's disease at bay

Lee Corlew is a woman fully embracing this time of her life. But she is constantly followed by a grim reality. "My mother and grandmother," Lee said, referencing her family link to Alzheimer's Disease.

"To see them decline, in the later stages, week by week, and hour by hour and minute by minute, sometimes. To sit there and watch the progression of that disease is horrible and gut wrenching, Lee said.

Lee is a participant in the University of Mississippi Medical Center's research on Alzheimer's being done by UMMC's Mind Center.

"Alzheimer's is a disease of the brain that leads to dementia," said Neurologist Dr. Alexander Auchus. He says it rarely strikes people under 65 years old. "Alzheimer's incidence and prevalence starts to double every five year period past the age of 65, so when you get into the senior citizen category and memory loss starts, Alzheimer's becomes much more likely the reason for it."

In Lee's case, there are genetic traits that she can't control, but Dr. Auchus says there are a number of things younger people can control their risk of Alzheimer's. "Like our blood pressure and over-use of tobacco, diabetes and cholesterol. All those things that are heart healthy are also brain healthy, Dr. Auchus said. 

"I have become a vegan which is no dairy and no meat, so I'm trying everything I can to combat the genetics that I have," Lee said. She is already making major modifications in her life not only with her diet, but also by taking supplements she believes are essential to brain health. She also gets plenty of exercise, every day.

Dr. Auchus says lifestyle choices do have an influence on someone's vulnerability to Alzheimer's Disease. "There are studies that show how much education you have, what type of job you do, whether you're involved in socially engaging activities and hobbies. All those things seem to buffer the brain by making it a little better so when a disease hits, it's harder to make it dysfunctional."

Because of her experience with Alzheimer's, Lee has become an advocate for more research. She says it's important to everyone, not just an Alzheimer's patient. "40 percent of families never function as families again. They get splintered."

Possibly the biggest obstacle in the future of Alzheimer's care is research money. The National Institutes of Health is spending approximately 13 billion dollars total on cancer, heart and AIDS researcher. However, for Alzheimer's it's 450 million.

NIH Research Portfolio

Dr. Auchus suggests a number of approaches to lowering the risk of Alzheimer's. 

- Be socially engaged

- Stay active in social networks & clubs

- Learn a new language

- Play and/or listen to music

- Talk about current events

- Read a book.

- Resolve treatable problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol

- Use medication, diet and exercise under a physician's guidance to control treatable problems

- Quit smoking

- Moderate alcohol use

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