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Learning the facts about Alzheimer’s

A Q&A with an expert

Learning the facts about Alzheimer’s

Learning the facts about Alzheimer’s


You’ve misplaced your wallet for the second time in one week. Now, you find yourself in the Walmart parking lot and can’t remember where you parked your car. Is it the stress of the holidays or is it something more serious? Even worse, can these episodes of forgetfulness be the first signs of Alzheimer’s? 
These are the types of questions Dr. Larry Tune, a geriatric psychiatrist from Emory Healthcare, fielded on Dec. 4 at Docs and Desserts when he spoke to health-care providers and caregivers. The event was sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter, Coastal Region, and Willow Pond Senior Living Community
Tune, a board-certified geriatric psychiatrist and neurologist and professor at Emory University, shared the following information:
Q.   I often hear the disease called, “Oldtimers, Alltimers, and Alzheimers” with the “z” pronounced.  What is the correct pronunciation?
A.  It is pronounced with the “z” heard in the word.
Q.  Alzheimer’s is an uncommon word.  What is the origin of Alzheimer’s?
A.  It dates back to 1906 when Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, presented a case history of a 56-year-old woman who died from a rare brain disorder. A brain autopsy identified plaque and tangles that today characterize Alzheimer’s disease.
Q.  What are the plaques and tangles?
A.  Plaques are abnormal clusters of protein fragments that build up between nerve cells and tangles are twisted strands of another protein and are found inside dead nerve cells.
Q.  When did people start becoming aware of Alzheimer’s?  
A.  It was thought of as a rare disease in 1981, but by 1985, people realized that “senility” and hardening of the arteries’ were the same as Alzheimer’s Disease…at that point  it was  elevated to a public health concern.
Q.  Are there genetic markers for Alzheimer’s disease?
A.  Yes, currently there are 21 different genetic markers under investigation … with the prospect of many more in the future.
Q.  Sloan-Kettering is known as a top treatment hospital for cancer. Betty Ford Center helps people with alcoholism. Is there a nationally prominent treatment center for Alzheimer’s?
A.  There are 32 federally funded Alzheimer’s centers … called Alzheimer’s Cooperative Study group sites across the country. In addition most major centers have either Alzheimer’s Programs or programs devoted to memory loss in the elderly.
Q.  Where does Alzheimer’s begin in your brain?
A.  It usually starts in the temporal-parietal lobes (the middle of the brain) … usually more in the left side at the beginning. It then spreads diffusely from there.
Q.  What is the first sign of Alzheimer’s?
A. The first symptom is usually impaired memory of recent events (the last few minutes) or newly learned information.
Q.  What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s? 
A.  Dementia is broad and is an impairment of thinking and memory. Alzheimer’s is a specific form of dementia.
Q.  Is there a way to prevent Alzheimer’s?
A.  You cannot prevent it, but you can delay it. Number 1, I suggest exercising every day for 30 minutes.  Number 2, Alzheimer’s and heart disease are related in some ways. Do everything in your power to avoid obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Also, “maintain your brain.” Keep giving your brain a workout by using it. The saying is true…if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Q.  Are there games you can play to help keep your brain active?
A.  Yes, bridge and Mahjongg are good strategic games to play to exercise the brain.
Q.  What is the age of the youngest patient you’ve ever seen?
A.  Thirty-six years old.
Q.  Is there anything in research you have seen that suggests supplements or vitamins help?
A.  Yes, I have seen research that indicates taking folate, Vitamin E and fish oil can be helpful.
Q.  If you could suggest one book to read about Alzheimer’s, what would it be?
A. “The 36 Hour Day” by Peter Rabins and Nancy Mace.
For more information about Alzheimer’s, call (800) 272-3900 or visit www.alz.org. To support your local Alzheimer's Association, you can purchase “Rocketman” Elton John Tribute concert tickets for Jan. 25 at Georgia Southern University’s Performing Arts Center.  Call (912) 478-7999 for ticket information.

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