The Future of Brain Research: Stopping Dementia Before it Develops

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Fifty million people are living with dementia — and there are nearly 10 million new cases each year, according to the World Health Organization. This number is expected to increase to 131 million by 2050. While treatments for this unforgiving brain disorder remain elusive, there is still hope. More and more research is exploring what can be done to prevent dementia’s development.
 
“Today, the diagnosis and the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is largely confined to older adults. Once the symptoms present themselves, then we diagnose and intervene,” says Baycrest President and CEO Dr. William Reichman. “In the future, the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s will be done before the forgetfulness and other forms of confusion are noticeable, the treatment is going to be directed towards people in mid-life.”
 
“The more good habits we accumulate in our lifespan, the better we are going to be in our advanced years.”
 
Simple lifestyle changes go a long way in keeping the brain in tip-top shape and could lead to improvements in a person’s memory and thinking abilities. A general rule of thumb to maintaining the brain’s function is: Whatever keeps your heart healthy is also good for your brain.
 
“During mid-life (between the ages of 45-65), the lifestyle risk factors for dementia are cardiovascular and hearing loss and during late-life (65 and older), the risk factors are physical inactivity, social withdrawal and depression,” says Dr. Nicole Anderson, a senior scientist at Baycrest and a clinical neuropsychologist. For those looking to start working out, it is recommended that people get 30 minutes of exercise a day, whether it’s going for a brisk walk, weight lifting or swimming in the pool, any activity that gets the heart pumping, adds Dr. Anderson.
 
Also, managing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and stress, is essential since these impact a person’s memory and thinking abilities, she adds.
 
“The more good habits we accumulate in our lifespan, the better we are going to be in our advanced years,” says Dr. Carol Greenwood, senior scientist at Baycrest. “Among people living a poor lifestyle, including a poor quality of diet, we see atrophy in important regions of the brain.”
 
By successfully delaying dementia’s onset by one year, nine million fewer people than projected will be afflicted with the disorder in 2050.
 
HELPING ADULTS PREVENT DEMENTIA
 
This is why Baycrest’s centennial anniversary celebrations include fundraising for the future Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness. People commonly think of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as an “old person’s disease,” but the key to treating the disorder may be to maintain brain health earlier.
 

(l-r) Warren and Debbie Kimel with Vanessa and Ron Kimel.
 
“One of the reasons we are making little headway pharmacologically in treating dementia, is because we’ve been intervening too late in the disease process,” says Dr. Reichman. “It would be like trying to improve the nation’s heart or cardiovascular health, but only developing drugs for 85-year-olds with advanced congestive heart failure. That would never improve population heart health. The same can be said for efforts to improve population brain health.”
 
By combining community wellness programming, specialized clinics and integrated research to prevent and treat cognitive decline, the Centre will integrate brain health, physical fitness, nutrition and social engagement for the aging population. In addition to offering programming to the community, the Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness will combine clinical care with research.
 
COMMUNITY GATHERING SPACE
 
Social isolation not only increases a person’s risk of developing dementia, but other studies have shown that it contributes to an increased chance of high blood pressure, heart conditions and depression.
 
Through the Kimel Centre’s social programming and educational courses, such as community discussion groups, lecture series and computer training, older adults in the community will have a new place to meet friends and develop new relationships. Visitors will have access to a new arts studio, a performance/lecture space and activity rooms, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness centre, a therapeutic pool and a yoga studio.
 
Working up a sweat through group exercises helps adults take a two-pronged approach to reducing their risk of dementia. Studies have shown that sedentary older adults who started a fitness program saw improvements to their memory and problem-solving skills, and working out in a group boosts an individual’s physical, mental and emotional health, as compared to exercising alone.
 
PERSONALIZED, EVIDENCE-BASED BRAIN HEALTH AND WELLNESS TREATMENT
 
Health care is moving towards a model of personalized medicine, incorporating the best research evidence into care - a change that will benefit patients, because not all treatments are effective for everyone.
 
 
Care offered at the Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness will embrace these approaches with older adults having access to tailored, evidence-based programs to help delay cognitive decline. This new centre will offer Goal Management Training™, an interactive and structured program designed to help individuals with impairments to their planning, focus and organization abilities, and satellite clinics of the Koschitzky Neuropsychology Treatment Programs:
 
Memory and Aging Program®: An intervention to help older adults with normal age-related memory changes maximize their brain health and memory function.
Learning the Ropes for Living with MCI™: An intervention for clients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which assists them and their families in managing memory changes.
Memory-Link Program: An intervention for adults aged 20 and older with moderate to severe memory impairment and a support service for their families.
 
ADVANCING DEMENTIA RESEARCH
 
The challenge in finding a way to prevent, diagnose and treat dementia is that researchers don’t fully understand the problem in front of them and the best ways to address it.
 
As researchers continue to unravel the mysteries of the aging brain, the Centre’s clients will have an opportunity to participate in clinical trials for unique interventions to prevent cognitive decline and treat dementia.
 
The Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness will be the founding site for a new model of best practices to improve brain health and aging that could be replicated around the world.
 
Join Baycrest in celebrating a rich 100-year history and a bright future of building the next century of confronting the brain health and aging challenges that lie ahead at the Centennial gala on Sunday, October 14. To find out more, visit baycrestfoundation.org
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