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.
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.
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