Ask the expert: Judith Neugroschl, M.D.
The NIH recently sponsored a panel made up of 15 specialists in a variety of fields of medicine and public health, along with 20 expert presenters, in order to assess the current research on Alzheimer’s disease prevention. They came up with a consensus statement with a couple of major points – the most general being that given the difficulty in diagnosing the “pre-clinical” stages of Alzheimer’s disease, firm conclusions cannot be drawn about the association of any modifiable risk factor with Alzheimer’s disease. They did, however, conclude that “the evidence is insufficient to support the use of pharmaceutical agents or dietary supplements to prevent cognitivedecline or AD.”
Many possible factors have been studied ranging from cognitive stimulation, and physical activity to blood pressure medications, vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, red wine, and eating a Mediterranean diet, among others. There are studies that are ongoing, and hopefully will augment our understanding, but so far the jury is still out as to whether they can alter an individuals risk for developing a memory problem.
The bottom line is that researchers need to continue to look for early diagnostic markers and identify people at significant risk, so that further large randomized trials can help sort out these answers. One example of how researchers are approaching this is through the AD neuro-imaging initiative (ADNI) – a study looking at imaging and other markers in blood or spinal fluid and following people over time to better understand and define who will go on to develop a dementia.
In the meantime doing “healthy” things – getting exercise, staying mentally active, eating a healthy and balanced diet may help and certainly won’t hurt!