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Controlling The Risk of Alzheimer's

Controlling The Risk of Alzheimer'sFollowing the death of America's most prominent Alzheimer's sufferer, a Tufts expert shares some lifestyle and nutritional changes that may reduce the risk of developing the condition. Boston.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.21.04] Alzheimer's is back in the spotlight following the death of President Ronald Reagan, who suffered from the disease for more than a decade. While there is no cure for Alzheimer's, Tufts' Dr. Richard Dupee told NBC's Today Show that nutrition and lifestyle changes may reduce risk of the condition - which is frequently missed by medical professionals during its earlier stages.

"Three out of four people with Alzheimer's are really missed in those first couple of years when we can actually have an impact," Dupee - associate clinical professor at Tufts School of Medicine and chief of geriatrics at Tufts-New England Medical Center - told reporter Ann Curry on NBC's Today Show. "And so they kind of chalk it up to normal aging."

But according to Dupee, symptoms of Alzheimer's - such as memory loss, mood swings and language problems - should not be considered a natural part of the life cycle.

"Doctors aren't well trained in the disease and they will call it normal aging," Dupee told NBC. "There's no such thing as losing your memory as normal aging. That doesn't exist."

Dupee - who is also director of the new MedWest Center for Memory Disorders (affiliated with Tufts-New England Medical Center) - said that catching the disease early is crucial.

"The medications that we have that work on the biochemistry of this disorder are actually very effective," Dupee told NBC. "But you have to use them very early."

According to the Tufts expert, there are several risk factors for Alzheimer's, including old age, gender (females appear to be at a slightly higher risk for developing the disease) and family history. Family history probably played a role for Reagan, whose older brother was also afflicted, Dupee said.

Other risk factors include high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, depression and head injuries.

Dupee told NBC that mental activity appears to have a correlation with Alzheimer's.

Studies have shown that intellectual stimulation can lower the risk of developing the disease. A recent study compared one group of people who engaged in intellectually stimulating activities - such as doing crossword puzzles and watching movies - with a control group, and the results were impressive.

"The group that was really intellectually challenging themselves had an almost 50 percent reduction in risk for Alzheimer's disease," Dupee said in the interview.

Nutrition - including intake of vitamin B12 and folate - also seems to play a role in controlling risk of the condition.

While they may help lower risk for the disease, these steps will not prevent Alzheimer's.

"Let's put it that way," Dupee told NBC. "I'm not sure that we can say yet that it will prevent it, but it will certainly lower your risk."

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