by Dr. Iain Corness
Alzheimer’s can be beaten!
I have stopped worrying about
Alzheimer’s Disease. Between Google and my nine year old daughter, I can
find anything. In the mornings when I leave home, there is Little Miss, with
index finger outstretched, showing me just where I parked the car last
night. And Google, the patron saint of writers, is always there to remind me
of the things I had forgotten. Now all I have to do is get my brain
hot-wired into a wireless network and I can meet the world head on.
However, we’re not quite there yet, so we (you and me) we have to retain as
much cerebral function as we can. And it turns out that it is not all that
We have known for some time that if you don’t use your muscles, they waste
away. By not using your hands for physical work, the skin on your hands gets
thin. However, we also know that if you use your muscles again, the muscle
tissue builds up and becomes strong once more. If you use your hands again,
the skin builds up and becomes thicker. The message is that all is not lost!
Recovery is possible.
However, we were always told that the one organ of the body that could not
reverse the wasting process was the Central Nervous System. Once it started
to fail, that was it. Dementia was just around the corner.
That view has recently been challenged and the results are comforting, to
say the least. Experiments have been carried out that showed that by
inducing stress in an animal resulted in chemicals being released. This on
its own was nothing new, but what was new was the fact that some of these
chemicals produced a difference in the brain’s anatomy! The idea that the
brain could not change was incorrect! It could be ‘short-circuited’
resulting in a new wiring pathway.
What was even more exciting was that if the animal was restored to its own
‘safe’ and non-threatening environment, then the brain reverted to its
pre-stressed anatomy! It was possible to ‘re-wire’ the brain.
In turn this has led to much research into the effects of stress and its
reversal, and then on to Alzheimer’s Disease (if I have remembered to spell
it correctly)! And if it were possible for its reversal too!
Returning to the research, we have shown that stress can physically damage
nerve cells used in storing memory. We have also found that mindless
watching of the goggle-box also produces a decline in brain function. In
fact the numbers are more worrying than that. It has now been found that
people with no stimulating leisure activities, and who are couch potatoes
instead, are nearly four times more likely to develop dementia compared to
those people who have leisure stimuli and do not waste hours in front of the
Taking that a step further, and turning the scientific data around to be
useful, it has been found that in being the converse to the couch potato,
intellectually stimulating leisure activities had a ‘protective’ effect for
the brain and its capabilities. What is more, they have also found that if
you are doing a job you enjoy, then this was again protective, but a dull
job with no stimulus or challenge was another way to head downhill.
This does not mean that we all have to take up chess tomorrow, because in
place of intellectually stimulating hobbies, it has been found that physical
exercise itself stops memory loss and stimulates growth of nerve cells.
Another protective factor appears to be marriage! Those who have never
married have twice as high an incidence of dementia than those who are
married. So there you are, rather than say that your wife is driving you
insane, it appears that she is driving you towards sanity instead.
So the secret towards staving off dementia and Al whatsisname’s disease is
to have a job you enjoy, get some exercise, watch a very limited amount of
TV and settle down with a good cook (sorry, that should have read “a good