What is Alzheimer's? Medical expert explains disease

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 15 million family members are involved in their care. To highlight this disease and the issues that surround it, the Daily Journal will offer a series of reports from the Mississippi State Alzheimer’s Conference this week.

By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OLIVE BRANCH – Public awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease lags behind that of several other diseases. That’s likely to change: Medical advances against other killers mean more people than ever are living long enough to develop Alzheimer’s – especially as baby boomers age.
“With medical advances, we can keep people alive a lot longer than ever before,” said Dr. Lisa Byrd, a geriatric and family nurse practitioner from the Jackson area, speaking Thursday at the state Alzheimer’s Conference.
In Alzheimer’s, plaques and tangles in the brain interfere with memory, language, recognition and abstract thinking.
“It’s a physiological disease: Although all the symptoms are manifested psychologically, it’s not a psychiatric disorder,” Byrd said.
Some risk factors for Alzheimer’s include hypertension, coronary artery disease, diabetes and elevated cholesterol, along with head injury and Down syndrome.
As for possible preventive measures, Byrd suggests “brain foods” like blueberries, asparagus, cherries and wild salmon, along with physical exercise, adequate sleep and mental challenges. “The brain is like a muscle; we’ve got to exercise it,” she said. “Learn something you didn’t know before.”
Byrd said some dementia-like symptoms may spring from readily treated causes.
“Other sources of confusion include depression, urinary tract infections, upper respiratory infections, alcohol abuse, medications, nutritional deficiencies (especially vitamin B12), dehydration, anemia and thyroid disorders,” she said.