She said in her Ted Talk that on average, one person in three will likely have Alzheimer's Disease, so in some way, this terrifying disease is likely to affect us all and that despite decades of research, there is still no disease modifying medicine and no cure. It's a pretty gloomy outlook, but one, she says, doesn't have to be the case. She says there are ways to change these statistics and our brain's destiny without relying on a cure or advancements in medicine and this is how...
The good news is, genes don't necessarily determine whether you're in the firing line for contracting the disease at some point in your life, despite what odds may be against you (if you inherit the APOE4 gene from both Mum and Dad, for example), but what does?
In slow wave deed sleep, our glial cells (like the brain's cleaners) rinse cerebro-spinal fluids throughout our brains, clearing away metabolic waste that accumulated in our brains throughout the day. Deep sleep is like a power cleanse for the brain, says Genova, so the more, the better. If you don't get enough, it might be a predictor of Alzheimer's because even a single night of sleep deprivation might be a driving force behind the nasty stuff called amyloid beta (protein) that accumulates in your brain, contributing to the destruction of your brain's neurons.
The worst thing about that is, the build-up of amyloid beta even contributes to lack of sleep, so you immediately begin to enter a cycle that can build-up the nasties in the brain that start you on a slippery slope toward a higher risk.
Genova says that high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and obesity have all been shown to increase our risk of developing Alzheimer's. Some autopsy research on sufferers of Alzheimer's has even revealed that up to 80% of people with the disease also showed some sign of cardiovascular disease, so a heart-healthy diet and frequent blood-moving exercise is a must to help stave-off any affects. She even mentions a Mediterranean diet to help you along the way.
Neuroplasticity and cognitive reserve, as it's called, is one of the most vital things you can do to keep symptoms of Alzheimer's away, even if you have the full pathology of the disease raring away in your brain. The terms 'neuroplasticity and cognitive reserve' refer to your brain learning things, strengthening existing connections in your brain and creating new ones, loaded with information. In short, by learning more things about many varied topics, people, places, items, schools of thought and so on whilst you're young and able, you build more connections in your brain so if, come the day, you do develop the disease, you might keep symptoms at bay thanks in large part to the big pool of fresh, new, rich connections in your brain that will outweigh the broken ones that cause the disease.
This means, Genova says, things like learning a language, meeting new people, reading a book or listening to podcasts can all give you a redundancy in healthy brains cells to help you out along the way.
Three things to know about Alzheimer's Disease
Lisa Genova learned three things about the disease that are worth knowing:
1. Having the disease doesn't mean you're dying tomorrow and you should keep living
2. You won't lose your emotional memory; you might not remember what happened five minutes ago, but you will remember how you felt about it
3. You are more than what you can remember