Can chair aerobics and a little weightlifting slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease? That's the question researchers at LDS Hospital hope to answer with their Brain Builders Program.
The hospital's study has recently been expanded to include not only Alzheimer's patients who are otherwise healthy but also those with the kinds of health problems diabetes, heart disease, depression that tend to tag along with the memory disease, says LDS Hospital clinical neuropsychologist Kelly Davis Garrett.
Garrett will join Nick Zullo of the Utah Alzheimer's Association today on the Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline. They will answer phoned-in questions about Alzheimer's disease from 10 a.m. to noon.
Brain Builders researchers had originally hoped to limit their study only to mild-stage Alzheimer's patients who were otherwise healthy. But in the real world, Garrett says, such patients are not so easy to come up with. So, with extra funding from the Tye and Ray Noorda Foundation, another arm of the study has been added, looking at "the typical person with mild-stage Alzheimer's."
Garrett and her colleagues are still looking for participants for both studies. For more information, call 408-5498 or visit www.intermountainhealthcare.org/brainbuilders.
Research on laboratory mice genetically programmed to get Alzheimer's has shown that exercise in the mice's case, running on a wheel can help them learn to navigate mazes faster than more sedentary mice with the disease. Autopsies revealed they also had less Alzheimer's pathology.
The LDS Hospital studies will last six months and will include control groups as well as groups that will engage in monitored exercise three times a week. Similar human studies to date have been hopeful but not definitive, and the LDS researchers are clear to point out that their exercise program may not improve memory loss.
If exercise does retard the progression of Alzheimer's, it may be because exercise can harness the body's own ability to clear the sticky proteins that are the hallmark of the disease, Garrett says. Exercise can increase blood flow to both the body and brain, boost the immune system, provide connections between brain cells and decrease stress hormones that can deplete the brain structures that support learning and memory.
Alzheimer's is one type of dementia. Like all dementias, it is characterized by a decline in memory as well as at least one other type of cognitive skill, declines that are bad enough to cause impairment in day-to-day living. Although all dementias may look similar, they have different causes.
Garrett likes to quote a colleague who describes dementia as being like a fever, in other words a symptom that doesn't tell you the underlying cause of the illness.
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