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Can we really fix dementia?
April 08, 2014

Dementia is a major public health issue on the rise, and advances in diagnosis and treatment have the potential to improve the lives of millions of Canadians. The Alzheimer Society of Canada stated the number of Canadians currently living with cognitive impairment, including dementia, now stands at 747,000. This number is expected to double to some 1.4 million people by 2031.

In March, Dr. Jed Meltzer, a Neurorehabilitation Scientist at Baycrest Health Sciences Rotman Research Institute (RRI), gave a hopeful-but-realistic talk and overview of what improvements we may expect to come from brain research.

In it, he spoke of what you can do to prevent or delay dementia. While there is no immediate “fix”, he says, adopting a healthy lifestyle can go a long way towards staving off the disease.

“The biggest intervention you can make is to take care of your heart with diet, exercise, controlling cholesterol and high blood pressure,” Meltzer says. “This can reduce your chances and it can slow down progression. The most controllable factor is cardiovascular health. When you are in your 30s and 40s, doing aerobic exercise has its pay-off decades later. You want to be in as good a shape as you can be earlier in life. That is going to reduce your chances of getting dementia later in life. Walking is also an excellent exercise, and it’s easy.”

Above video: Dr. Jed Meltzer, scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Reseach Institute talks about his research on how language is processed in the brain, for future stroke rehabilitation.

The Meltzer lab at Baycrest is focused on early diagnosis and treating the symptoms. Their current study examines the electrical activity of the brain, which may be altered at the earliest stages of dementia. Because dementia progresses gradually over the years, early diagnosis is essential to successfully treating it. Their research study will help clinicians identify dementia earlier, and will also help to develop treatments to slow the progression.

Dementia is a disorder where people slowly lose their cognitive abilities. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, in which memory is the main deficit. However, dementia may cause several other symptoms, including language and visual problems. These cognitive deficits get worse over time and eventually interfere with the daily lives and independence of people living with dementia.

It is caused by the slow degeneration of brain cells. The cognitive symptoms of dementia vary according to which parts of the brain are affected, and these differ between forms of dementia.

There are currently no definitive methods of predicting this process, stopping it, or slowing it down.

Current research in dementia focuses on three areas: (1) finding a cure for the underlying processes that cause dementia, (2) finding ways to diagnose dementia earlier, and (3) finding effective treatments for the symptoms of dementia.

Dr. Meltzer’s lab is eagerly seeking people affected by dementia, as well as older healthy volunteers, to participate in research studies. If you’re interested in participating or want more information about the study, contact:

Tiffany Deschamps
Research Assistant
P: 416 785 2500 ext 3561
E: tdeschamps@research.baycrest.org

You can also sign-up online to participate or receive more information about this and other research studies at Baycrest.

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