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Alzheimer’s Link to Mothers

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Scientists have long known that Alzheimer’s Disease has a hereditary component, but new research suggests the predisposition is more often passed on from the maternal side than from the dad who has had Alzheimer’s.  This, according to research reported in the March 1, 2011, issue of the journal, Neurology.  

One of you who are following my blog had asked about Alzheimer’s recently, so the timing could not have been better.  As a geriatric care manager, I often counsel sons and daughters of elder parents who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  I now will tell them that in addition to age of onset, gender of the older parent also is a factor when considering one’s own future.  But I can also report that there is very good reason for hope.

The researchers whose work was published studied 53 mentally healthy individuals, some of whom had a mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, some with a father diagnosed, and most with no history of the illness in their families.  These patients had a baseline MRI at the start of the study to measure how much brain atrophy they had in the key areas of the brain associated with memory, areas that Alzheimer’s compromises.  The same individuals also had MRIs two years later, despite the fact that none of them showed any outward signs of cognitive impairment at either time point.  The researchers found significantly more brain atrophy among subjects who had a family history of the disease, and particularly if it was from the mother’s side of the family.  The researchers admitted that they had to depend on their subjects’ own reports of parents’ medical conditions, and they also acknowledged that they need larger studies to have greater confidence in these results. 

So, what does a person with a mother with Alzheimer’s do?  Well, with all the research presently focusing on Alzheimer’s these days, the person in this position should be optimistic.  The same researchers who suggest a maternal link to Alzheimer’s have reported on the positive effects of cardiovascular exercise on affected patients.  Regular exercise, they report, is associated with less atrophy in the areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s.  It does not have to be really strenuous exercise to see this benefit, and regular cardio-respiratory exercise is better than the “weekend warrior” version exercise.  The researchers also reported that people already diagnosed with dementia had fewer falls and improved quality of life when they followed a caregiver-directed home exercise program.  

Results like this and others are promising.  They show that clinicians are getting a bit better at predicting and diagnosing Alzheimer’s as well as slowing and limiting the frailty so much associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.  I encourage you to go to the Alzheimer’s Association web site for more useful information if you or someone you know is a caregiver to an older adult with Alzheimer’s.

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.

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