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AGING: Think you have Alzheimer's? It's quite likely that you don't

Some of us in the aging category (and who isn't?) wonder at times (those times when we forget more than we feel justified in doing) that we might be in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Some of us in the aging category (and who isn't?) wonder at times (those times when we forget more than we feel justified in doing) that we might be in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

We are more apt in our later years to have relatives or friends who have fallen victim. One of the more positive comments that has brightened my day when having such doubts is this statement someone made to me: "If you wonder if you have Alzheimer's, you probably don't have it." In other words if you are the victim, you won't be pondering such questions. I hope so -- because I've been one that has had the thought.

Recently, I made a trip to Menomonie, the hometown of my youth, to visit with an old friend whose hometown was Superior. Bob and I met at Stout Institute as freshman in 1942, followed by military service together and have been very good friends every since. Bob is now in the early stages of Alzheimer's and is in a program sponsored by Mayo.

We hear reports about Alzheimer's more frequently these days. Some favorable reports indicate research is zeroing in on the problem.

I've commented on the benefits of exercise for those of us in the aging category before. We know that exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, shores up thinning bones and wards off a host of evils, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. And now there is some research that indicates exercising the body can benefit the mind.

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Out of the variety of neurotrophic factors released during exercise, however, scientists found that one in particular stood out: brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This protein seems to act as a ringleader, prompting brain benefits on it own and triggering a cascade of other neural health-promoting chemicals to spring into action.

Carl Cotman, a neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine said, "I think of BDNF as brain fertilizer. It is thrilling to see what it does to cells in culture."

Like many of the studies we read about, the research teams often are working with mice. The brains of people with Alzheimer's accumulate a protein known as beta-anyloid. This study had rats that exercised in one group and another group that didn't. In the end, dissected brains of the exercising rats had about half as much of the accumulated beta-anyloid, causing researchers to suggest that physical activity could eventually fight early Alzheimer's.

And so, we should seriously be scheduling ourselves for exercise. Superior, luckily, has a number of ways and places that can be accomplished. Certainly, we all can be doing more walking, stair climbing instead of elevator riding, and that list is all too familiar. Easier to say and more difficult to muster the self-discipline to accomplish. All we have to do, as the old saying goes, "Don't permit an exception to occur until the habit becomes fixed." It can be fun too; when you move more slowly in the walking mode, you see things that you didn't see driving by!

Some closing humor:

  • We oldies can still get it all together, we just can't remember where we put it.
  • We know that we are one of oldies when the little old person that helps us across the street turns out to be our spouse.
  • I've got time now in retirement to procrastinate, but I just can't seem to get around to it.
  • Don't be like an old friend of mine who used to say, "I get my exercise being pallbearer for my athletic friends." Hank died way too young.
  • Growing old does have some real advantages; we can brag and lie without repercussion. Those that know better are not around anymore to set the record straight.

Bernie Hughes, Ed.D., is a retired educator who resides in Superior. He can be reached at Bernie1@cpinternet.com .

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