Alzeimers and Brain Awareness


This June '15 was observed as 'Alzeimer's and Brain Awareness Month', across the Western hemisphere. Alzeimer's is one of the most devastating diseases of all time; affecting 47 million people worldwide, including our forefathers who were unaware of their hidden malady. A death sentence that steals one's memory, it affects 5.3 million Americans (one in three seniors).

More than a century ago, Alois Alzeimer, a German psychiatrist, had become intrigued by the peculiar mental state of his patient, Auguste Deter, a 51 year old woman who appeared to be prematurely losing her mind. The young Deter occasionally told her doctor, " I've lost myself." When she died in 1906, Alzeimer autopsied her brain. It had shrunk considerably and it's tissue was speckled with distinctive markings. These deposits -- later characterised as amyloid plaque and tau, are considered the hallmarks of Alzeimers'. The pharmaceutical industry didn't take the disease seriously for the next 70 years, until the researchers opined that Alzeimer's was just a source of dementia, population wide.

Founder of the 'Neur Expand Brain Center' in Washington DC, Dr. Majid Fotuli, a neurologist, helps people grow their brains to advance their cognitive function. Fotuli opines that it's 'hippocampi' -- the ground zero for your memory now and your dementia risk in the future. We have two of them, one on the underside of each hemisphere of our brain. Each is about the size of our thumb and shaped like a sea horse (Greek-horse and sea monster)and their primary duties involve short-term memory and consolidating it for longer-term storage. Hippocampi shrink as we age -- about 0.5 % per year beginning after 50. This forgetfulness is not only inconvenient and embarassing but also a harbinger of bad things to come. The smaller your hippocampi, the more vulnerable you are to the ravages of dementia, the most common being Alzeimers. Studies have established that people with bigger hyppocampi tend to have lower risk of dementia.

Our brain produces about 400 new neurons a day to be incorporated into our grey matter. That is what enlarges the hyppocampi, adds to cognitive reserve -- the surplus neurons. Bits of protein in the form of 'plaques' and 'tangles' destroy brain tissue, causing gradual memory loss that leads to behavioural deterioration and in the end an inability to perform basic tasks like swallowing food. The hippocampi get destroyed first, which explains why memory is the first casuality of Alzeimers. The cortex goes down next, taking away everything else that makes you. Ofcourse, there is no definite cure for this disease, yet a few drugs are being tested with success. P. Doraiswamy, director of Duke's Neuro-cognitive disorders, Michael Ahlers of pfizer, Ajay Verma, neurologist (earlier with Novartis & Merck), the pharmaceutical player like Biogen and Eily Lilly, have almost completed their trials on the Alzeimers patients with some success. As with cancer, it is likely that treating Alzeimers in most patients will require a combination of thrapies since the individual biology of each patient varies. Only five Alzeimers drugs have been approved. All are aimed at treating symptom of disease, such as memory loss, rather than the illness itself. Another theory called amyloid hypothesis, contends that things go wrong in Alzeimers patients when beta-amyloid, a protein starts to bind up forming plaques around the neurons. As these plaques and tangles of tau proliferate in the brain, neurons die; the mental activity is snuffed out.

Never get Alzeimers: Exercise, a good diet and mental challenges are great for your brain. Here are the things to focus on.

Exercise: Moving your body is freaking great for your brain. Majid Fatuli, the brain expert recommends keeping your heart rate up for atleast 20 minutes at a time. People who increased their 3 weekly walks from 10 to 40 minutes expanded their hippocampi by 2 % after a year. Exercise increases the levels of brain-derived-neurotropic factor (BDNF) a protein highly useful for brain.

Meditate: Basic mindful meditation (call it Yoga) is an effective weapon against cortisol (anti-hippocampus). This training includes the routine : Sit up straight, close your eyes and inhale slowly for a count of 5, then exhale for a count of 5. Do this for 5 minutes. Practice this twice a day -- or if you are stressed, 3-4 times a day. Memorize : Making a habit of memorizing things will tone up your hippocampi. People who learned to juggle showed an increase in grey matter after 3 months. Increased social interaction helps, as does learning a new skill or language.

Get Omega-3: Higher levels of DHA and EPA found in fatty fish can be useful in enlarging hyppocampi in humans.

Memory Trick: Pick up a regular deck of cards. Deal youself a card faceup and note it. Place another card faceup on top of it. Now name the first card aloud. Cover the second card with a third faceup. Name the second card. Get it ? Do the deck. Again deal a card faceup, note it, and cover it with another card faceup. Now deal a third faceup before renaming the first card. Go from there, naming the card, two cards back after new deal. Every 4 weeks, increase the number of cards you cover. If you can get upto 10 covered, you are an 'ace', says brain expert, Fatuli.

Never forget another name: When you meet someone new, what are you fixated on ?

Yourself: What kind of impression you are making ; your handshake, of your making eye contact or thinking of your grey hair. That is why the new acquaintance's name never gets locked in. Pick out one or two things about the person, his trait and gait. To keep one's brain firing one has to interact with people you meet and remember atleast 10 names out of 20.

Last but not the least, at age 50, people should have a brain health examination just like they would have a colonoscopy.
Dr. Tej K.Munshi, {Ex. Prof. in Applied Sciences},
Feedback at:
Newyork, Phone No: 518-374-7036