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How to Reverse Brain Shrinkage in Alzheimer's

Treating symptoms, reliable early diagnosis, addressing disease triggers and reversing poor cognition are the exciting directions of research in Alzheimerís Disease. One of the great frontiers is immunotherapy. Dr. Norman Relkin, associate professor of clinical neurology and neuroscience at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College feels that the human body has natural defenses to destroy amyloid plaque buildups in the brain. Basically, itís a question of directing the immune system to attack the specific target.

Dr. Relkinís research team discovered in blood tests that Alzheimerís patients have lower levels of a particular antibody. Next the researchers administered the antibody, already utilized in a therapy used to treat immune deficiencies to a few Alzheimer's patients in 2004. A short while later, they were happily surprised by the dramatic improvements in their patients' cognitive function. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing Dr. Relkinís reports. Dr. Relkin is hoping for a larger clinical trial as a handful of people are not necessarily representative of the entire population.

Also, there is ongoing research studying enzymes and their role in plaque formation. Tests for early diagnosis are being improved: The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment, especially as the treatments continue to improve.

Meanwhile what can we do about the shrinking brain?

Recent studies involving animal and human subjects have found that several factors improve mental performance: Higher education, continued learning, social relationships, stress-management and physical exercise. When you challenge the brain, you actually sprout new dendrites which mean more synapses Ė points of contact. And the newest evidence suggests that regular practice in reasoning skills or in distinguishing sounds appears to lead to more generalized improvements in brain function.

This is actually the other end of the spectrum. Recent studies show that music training improves mathematical ability in children. Apparently, it could help seniors as well. Scientists from the University of Southern California and the Mayo Clinic said that seniors who spent an hour a day for eight to 10 weeks using a program that asked them to identify subtle differences in sounds performed better than the control group on memory and speed tests, too. Just like children learning to play a musical instrument, ear training causes the brain to convey information more precisely from one region to another. This improved ability transfers to all types of thinking.

"The amount of memory improvement was equivalent to going back 10 years in your ability," says Elizabeth Zelinski, professor of gerontology and psychology at USC.

However, donít go investing in lots of brain training software that have hit the market as everyone wants to get on the band wagon and make a profit out of fear. In actuality, any kind of learning you do is great. And maybe the best of all is still exercise. Aerobic exercise counteracts shrinkage by expanding the hippocampus in both mice and men. Exercise stimulates growth factor proteins, which increase the formation and growth of new brain cells and synapses. And donít forget that exercise improves blood flow into the brain and helps prevent micro-strokes which increase the likelihood of dementia.

Keep it simple!
For more information on caregiving and exercise, read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show




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