I visited with Dr. Robert Gilbert, a neurologist at Piedmont Hospital, to discuss this debilitating disease. According to Dr. Gilbert, Alzheimer’s is an increasingly recognized disease because of the aging population; therefore we’ll see more and more cases. Currently there isn’t a set diagnostic test to determine Alzheimer’s, but most doctors use MRI testing to see if there are markers that indicate a possible diagnosis. Dr. Gilbert states, “Unfortunately, by the time you see changes of atrophy in the temporal lobe (via MRI) the patient already has signs, so it’s helpful to exclude other causes.” If a patient has signs of memory loss, Dr. Gilbert says he usually sends them for further neurological testing to look at possible causes.
Dr. Gilbert says, “There are certain things one can do to reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s, but we know there are genetic links – that’s something we can test, to some degree, but it’s not valid clinically yet.”
Alluding to a study out recently, Dr. Gilbert explains seven things people can do in their everyday activities to significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The most important is increasing physical activity. The study also found depression, obesity and diabetes all increase the risk.
Keeping the mind active also lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Gilbert says, “We’ve known for a long time that higher functioning, smarter patients – ones that have gone through higher levels of education or stayed mentally active – seem to not have as much presentation with Alzheimer’s.”
Dr. Gilbert says that data shows that patients can reduce or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by 10-20% with lifestyle changes. He says there is a link between lifestyle habits and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but no one knows the true cause of the disease yet.