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All about Alzheimer’s

Learn more about this ‘family disease’ at UK’s Markesbery Symposium

The number of Kentuckians suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is 71,000 and rising; by 2025, it’s expected that more than 85,000 Kentuckians will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 

Alzheimer’s is a dementia, but not all dementias are Alzheimer’s.  Alzheimer’s disease accounts for only 55 to 60 percent of all dementias, which is defined as a loss of ability to perform activities of daily living such as dressing, feeding and bathing.

We don’t know yet what causes Alzheimer’s, but we are making progress. We do know that when a substance called amyloid beta accumulates in the brain, it seems to increase the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, though we don’t yet understand what causes the buildup. 

Currently, approved treatments for Alzheimer’s do not change the disease progression. However, these medications do have value in preserving memory and learning abilities, so it’s crucial to see your doctor as soon as you suspect something is wrong. Many potential treatments are in various stages of the research process, and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky is currently studying several experimental drugs. Sanders-Brown is one of just 31 centers in the U.S. with a special designation that recognizes its leadership in dementia research, treatment and education.

Research has demonstrated that taking good care of your heart is also good for the brain. A healthy diet, maintaining good cholesterol levels, controlling diabetes and moderate exercise probably helps keep your brain healthy, too. Also, you can “exercise” your brain by being socially engaged, by learning new things and/or by doing puzzles such as crosswords or Sudoku.

We see Alzheimer’s as a family disease. It affects the patient primarily, but it has a devastating financial and emotional burden on family and caregivers as well. Outreach, education and support are essential for patients, their families and caregivers.  Sanders-Brown offers a variety of resources for families, but is best known for its Markesbery Symposium, which showcases the latest research and information for patients, families and caregivers.  

This year’s eighth annual symposium features Dr. Monica Parker of Emory University, who specializes in healthy brain aging, and Dr. Sanjay Asthana of the University of Wisconsin, an expert in hormones and cognition. The audience will also learn about the latest research at Sanders-Brown and have the opportunity to ask questions of the experts. For more information about this free event, go to www.uky.edu, search “Markesberry Symposium.”

Donna Wilcock is the Sweeney-Nelms Professor in Alzheimer’s Disease Research at the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

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