Alzheimer’s rates continue rise and researchers remains at a loss to explain why. Over five million Americans are currently living with the disease – which ranks as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. – and one out of three seniors in the country will develop some form of dementia in their lifetime. While Tigard dentists like Dr. Greg Williams know that gum disease has been potentially linked with an increased risk of the Alzheimer’s in studies, a clear cause and effect relationship has yet to be established.
Despite the high prevalence of the disease, researcher project the number of seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s will increase dramatically in the future. A recent University of Chicago study projected that by 2030 the number of Alzheimer’s patients will rise to over 30 million. While care for Alzheimer’s patients cost the nation $203 billion in 2012, researchers expect that number to rise to nearly $1.2 trillion by the year 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
To gain a better understanding of what’s behind this growing epidemic, more research has been dedicated to determining the causes of and risk factors for dementia in recent years. A study from earlier this year found that individuals who neglect scheduling regular dental checkups and suffer from poor oral health have a higher risk of developing dementia when compared to individuals with strong oral health. Additional research has also found that poor diet, a lack of mental stimulation, and even failing to maintain a social lifestyle can all increase an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Of course understanding the causes of the disease is only part of the equation, as researchers continue to search for ways to lower an individual’s risk. One such technique recommended by doctors is for patients to regularly engage in crossword puzzles and brain games that promote mental stimulation. However, a new study suggests that preventing Alzheimer’s may take more than just mental exercise, but physical as well.
According to a panel of neuroscientists, regular exercise can help slow age-related memory loss, ease the symptoms of depression, and prevent Parkinson-like symptoms.
The panel’s findings were based on several recent studies and reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.
One study cited by the panel – conducted by researchers at China’s Chongquing Medical University – found that rats who ran regularly on treadmills during a four-month period scored higher on memory aptitude tests as they aged. The rats also tested as possessing more blood vessels and white matter in the brain when compared to rats that lived a more sedentary lifestyle, making it clear to researchers that exercise still matters regardless of age.
The study also found that regular exercise also helped to reverse the slowing of movement – a symptom often associated with Parkinson’s disease – that often comes with age. Referred to as bradykinesia, the condition afflicts over half of seniors over the age of 85 and is one of the primary causes of senior falls.
In the study, researchers found that elderly rats could greatly improve their mobility after only 12 days by running on a treadmill. Researchers believe that increased exercise may help to raise the levels of dopamine, a chemical found in the brain that plays an important role in movement.
Another study cited by panelist was performed by researchers at the University of Newcastle and involved a dozen young Australians between the ages of 15 to 25 that had previously been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. Researchers found that after 12 weeks of increased exercise, 10 of the 12 individuals involved in the study were no longer categorized as depressed.
One explanation why exercise helps improve brain function is that physical exertion requires a lot of mental exertion, as well. Taking a jog around the block requires the brain to coordinate a complex series of movements – such as that of the arms and legs – while also regulating heart rate, breathing, etc. Becoming involved in group exercise and team sports also helps to stimulate parts of the brain that control social interactions – further helping to ease depression.
Panelist involved in the discussion hope that highlighting these recent studies helps to underscore the value of exercise when it come to staying both mentally and physically healthy. As dementia becomes more prevalent in the coming years, a shift in attitudes towards protecting mental health is needed to help prevent the rise of Alzheimer’s and other life altering mental conditions. Based on recent research, the first steps towards a mentally healthier future may be the ones you take out the front door.