Alltech lectures examine Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease was the subject of two presentations in Haggin Auditorium in March and April that were part of the Alltech Lecture Series at Transylvania University. They were given by two members of the department of neurology in the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky.
Frederick Schmitt (featured right speaking with audience members) gave a lecture titled “100 Years of Alzheimer’s Research: What Do Therapeutic Interventions Have to Offer?” The lecture was co-sponsored by Transylvania psychology professor Meg Upchurch’s Bingham-Young Professorship titled Drugged America.
Schmitt said that Alzheimer’s is a growing disease that affects 5-6 million people in the United States today and is expected to strike 15 million by 2050. It is the seventh leading cause of death in America. Slightly more women than men have the disorder, but women live longer than men, so a gender link is questionable, he said.
Research is aimed at preventing the abnormal protein structures in the brain that characterize Alzheimer’s, but Schmitt said there was no drug treatment currently available that is proven to be effective.
“New clinical research about the disease is exciting, and the hope is that within the next 10 years we will find a treatment that works,” Schmitt said.
Charles D. Smith, the Robert P. and Mildred Moore’s Professor in Alzheimer’s Research, gave a talk titled “How Can We Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?” He said that combating the disease through early detection and preventive therapy may prove to be a more successful strategy than attempting to cure it in its more advanced stages.
“We don’t need a silver bullet to cure Alzheimer’s where it is already present, we need to help a person stay ahead of the pathology that causes the disease,” he said. “Instead of turning around and shooting it, we should outrun it.”
Smith said that the brain’s natural plasticity, or ability to repair itself, can be supported in the early stages of the Alzheimer’s pathology. Among his recommendations were controlling weight and cholesterol level, avoiding hypertension, exercising both the body and brain, and staying socially engaged.
“The brain is a social organ—when you take social engagement away, synapses deteriorate. As people get older, they sometimes become solitarily confined. You need to stay engaged, not just cognitively, but socially and sexually. Maintain environmental enrichment throughout your life.”