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Lecturer sees hope in research aimed at preventing Alzheimer’s disease

Dr. Charles Smith speaks at Transylvania
Dr. Charles D. Smith
LEXINGTON, Ky.—Combating Alzheimer’s disease through early detection and preventive therapy may prove to be a more successful strategy than attempting to cure the disease in its more advanced stages, said University of Kentucky professor Dr. Charles D. Smith in an April 7 presentation that was part of the Alltech Lecture Series at Transylvania University.

“We don’t need a silver bullet to cure Alzheimer’s where it is already present, we need to help a person stay ahead of the pathology that causes the disease,” Smith said. “Instead of turning around and shooting it, we should outrun it.”

Smith is Robert P. and Mildred Moore’s Professor in Alzheimer’s Research in the department of neurology at UK’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. He spoke to a near-capacity crowd in Transylvania’s Carrick Theater.

Smith told his audience that no significant breakthroughs in the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease had occurred from the time German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer first described the disorder in 1906 until 1978, but that more recent research offers the hope of effective treatment.

“Clinical trials for practical, preventive measures for Alzheimer’s disease are within immediate view,” he said. “The goal is to devise treatment for people who are at high risk for the disease.”

Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal brain disease that affects as many as 5.3 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior that are severe enough to affect work, social life and other activities.

Smith said the brain’s natural plasticity, or ability to repair itself, can be supported in the early stages of the Alzheimer’s pathology.

“The brain is plastic at young ages and can make new connections,” he said. “It this way, it can compensate to some degree for the developing Alzheimer’s pathology. Your internal healing mechanisms can be enhanced.”

Smith said a variety of measures can be taken by anyone to minimize their risk of developing Alzheimer’s. People should control their weight and cholesterol level, avoid hypertension, exercise both their body and brain and stay socially engaged.

“The brain is a social organ—when you take social engagement away, synapses deteriorate. As people get older, they sometimes become solitarily confined. You need to stay engaged, not just cognitively, but socially and sexually. Maintain environmental enrichment throughout your life.”

4/15/2009

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