Study: 'Pre-dementia' is rising, especially in men

CHICAGO More than 5,000 researchers from 60 different countries are meeting in Chicago this week to share groundbreaking information on Alzheimer's research. It's all part of the 2008 Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's disease or ICAD.

They will be discussing everything from the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's and related disorders. It's a global problem with not a lot of good options for treatments. One Chicago doctor says it's time to start treating Alzheimer's the way we do many other diseases and the focus should be prevention.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia that affects about 25 million people worldwide. Over the years, science has been taking baby steps to figure out the cause.

Doctors have long suspected that if the plaque that builds up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease could be removed it could prevent the progression. But just recently it was revealed a new vaccine that did remove the plaque didn't do that. That could explain why some people with the abnormal accumulations of proteins in the brain don't have any memory loss.

Dr. David Bennet is a neurologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. His focus has been on prevention

"These are life-course diseases that require life course interventions," said Bennett.

Dr. Bennet is talking about building a better brain or brain reserve. He says researchers have noticed people whose brain scans showed typical Alzheimer's symptoms but no memory loss tended to be more active, social and healthy in their lifestyle.

"It's not going to be as simple as buying some computer game for six months and now I'm going to prevent Alzheimer's disease. We need to develop lifelong patterns of good behavior," Bennet said.

Dr. Bennet says it's much like prevention methods for stroke or heart disease, things such as exercising, watching your diet and maintaining good cholesterol levels. He adds, new imaging methods allow doctors to see the earliest warning signs of Alzheimer's in the brain just as they do the earliest stages of heart disease. So, prevention will be up to the individuals and it will be a lifelong commitment.

"For people on the outside waiting for the magic bullet, there's a reason why they call it the magic bullet: there is no magic," Bennet said.

A study released just Sunday shows patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's who performed better on a treadmill test had less atrophy in the areas of the brain that control memory. But it isn't clear whether exercise helped avoid brain damage or if brain damaged people had less ability to exercise.

The latest study out of the conference Monday shows new research that a milder type of mental decline that often precedes Alzheimer's disease is much more common than thought. Scientists say the problem is sure to grow as Baby Boomers age.

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