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An Alzheimer's Researcher On How To Curb The Disease


Anyone who makes it into old age will have a brain that shows some signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Some people suffer symptoms, though, while others don’t. Today on Think, Lauren Silverman spoke with David Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, about new research into how we can keep our minds sharp and avoid dementia.

The KERA Interview

David Bennett on …

… the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s:

“Dementia or senility, this basically refers to a loss of cognitive abilities relative to a younger age. So if you’ve developed your cognitive abilities and then at some point you lose them, that’s a dementia. There are childhood dementias, which can begin in the teens or even single digits, and then there are midlife dementias, and then there are late-life dementias. So, dementia is just a category, and if somebody has a dementia you need to think about the cause. And by far and away in older people, the most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease.”  

… methods that help slow down dementia:

“We know for example that education is strongly related to better health and longer life. So you can think about things that are related to education and what I call experiential factors. Things that you can do in your life. Things that you can engage in that might be protective. We’ve measured things like cognitive activity throughout the lifespan, physical activity, social activity and engaging in those kinds of activities will slow your trajectory of loss of cognition.”  

… treatment vs. prevention:

“If you ask old people whether they want to get the disease and have it treated or whether they want it prevented, they all suggest that they prefer to have it prevented. From an economic point of view and a public health point of view, treatment prolongs the disease and it increased costs and so you actually end up with more people with the disease because they live longer. So prevention is what people want. It’s the only way to reduce the costs, the human costs, the economic costs, and burden of the illness.”  

…. how little progress has be made in the field:  

“Unfortunately, we make a diagnosis today no different than I did 30 years ago. You know, the only difference between now and 30 years ago is that there’s a few drugs on the market that have really very little effect on the disease. And the disease is much more recognized by the population and so people come in much more mild than they did 30 years ago when it was not unusual to see people with end stage disease coming in to be diagnosed for the first time.”