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1.17.2012

Alzheimer’s Experts Present Latest in Prevention and Research

Two of the nation’s leading Alzheimer’s disease experts shared the latest in research and prevention strategies to delay onset of this disease at an event hosted by the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. Gary Small, M.D., author of “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program,” joined Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., director of the Hussman Institute, in a lecture and book signing held at UM’s Lois Pope LIFE Center on January 10.

Small, a psychiatrist who is also director of the University of California Los Angeles Longevity Center, explained that age is the single greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. “In 1900, the life expectancy in the United States was only 47 years. Now we’re living longer. Today we have a life expectancy of 78 years,” Small told the audience. As the population continues to age, many individuals will be at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s by virtue of living longer.

He said, however, that limited clinical studies suggest there may be ways to delay the onset of symptoms of this disease. He cited physical exercise, mental challenges, stress reduction, and a healthy diet as key factors. Those practical strategies are the focus of his new book, which outlines daily lifestyle practices designed to ward off the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Small led the audience through a word exercise to illustrate a technique he employs to improve memory.

Pericak-Vance, the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Professor of Human Genomics, discussed the ongoing research into the genetics behind Alzheimer’s disease. In 1993, she led a research team that included Small in the discovery of apolipoprotein E (APOE) as a major susceptibility gene for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In 2011, Pericak-Vance collaborated with an international team of researchers to find 10 additional genes associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

She explained that the Hussman Institute is involved in multiple worldwide consortia investigating genetic factors behind Alzheimer’s in the hopes of improving therapies. “Building on what we have learned plus new technology and approaches, the answers that we seek will provide new ways to look at and manage the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Pericak-Vance.

Laura Jones, whose husband was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 50, said that she was grateful for researchers like Small and Pericak-Vance. “Awareness is key,” she said, following the lectures. “We have to raise awareness.”

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