Dr. Small talked about the expected explosion of the brain-robbing disease, along with some steps people can take to reduce their risk of Alzheimer's.
"We have 5 million people today with the disease," according to Dr. Small. "And the projection is that number will grow to 16 million by 2050. It could cost us a trillion dollars a year. That's a huge burden."
While Dr. Small agrees with a National Institutes of Health panel that we we don't have enough evidence to prove you can take steps to truly prevent Alzheimer's, there are lifestyle strategies that can improve brain health and delay the onset of symptoms. "Certainly, it is easier to protect a healthy brain than to repair a damaged one," he explained.
"Studies show genetics accounts for a third of what determines how well we age, that two-thirds isn't genetic," Dr. Small said. "Most of that has to do with lifestyle. We recommend 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise, a diet with lots of antioxidants -- fruits, vegetables, fish, walnuts -- stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation, and activities that encourage brain activity."
Dr. Small pointed out that there are a number of computer programs that exercise the brain, but he says you have to be careful. "There's no great vetting process -- some work, some don't -- so you have to be an informed consumer. Also, talking to people is important -- one study found that having a conversation on an interesting topic is better for brain health than watching a Seinfeld rerun, likely because it involves more mental work."
Dr. Small explained there are studies with mice that have found that those raised in cages with toys or mazes have more neuron activity and perform better in tests.
But what about technology and its effect on brain health? Does all that time surfing the web put our brains at risk? "My group did the study of your brain on Google. We looked at older people who were Internet-naAve and older people who were Internet-savvy," Dr. Small explained. "In the first group, we found that reading a book and searching online didn't activate the brain that much; in the second, book-reading didn't do that much for their brain but searching online did. Our thinking is, if you know how to search online, it stimulates your neurocircuitry."
Dr. Small says in his prevention program, he talks about finding the "sweet spot" that exercises the brain but doesn't overtrain it. "If something becomes routine and you overdo it, you develop cognitive efficiency and you don't have much activity in the brain," he said.
To learn more about Dr. Small please visit www.drgarysmall.com
Dr. Small will be doing a book signing at the Tattered Cover in LoDo at 7:30 p.m. tonight, January 25th.
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