Glavine column: Brain matter matters

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From Province House to Home by Leo Glavine

This month, I had the honour of being a part of the Halifax launch of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative, a national charitable project to raise funds for research in Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  These diseases afflict women 70 per cent more often than men. In our small area of Kings West alone, Alzheimer’s - or another form of dementia - will affect approximately 348 women this year.

Important and ongoing work to investigate these diseases has always emphasised men, albeit the marked discrepancy in the female to male ratio of those who suffer from dementias. Even the lab mice used in this research are male, because the differences in hormonal characteristics have proven to be very complex. The Women’s Brain Health Initiative will fund research focused on women.

Some diseases are more common in childhood or among a certain demographic. It is important to understand that Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is a disease that occurs primarily during mature adulthood and particularly among mature women. This disease is more prevalent in senior years, yet it is not a natural disease of aging. Age is merely a risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s; it is not the cause. We still do not know the cause or causes of this fatal disease, but inroads in neurological research look promising. Abnormalities in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s have been identified (inflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial impairment, glial cell sickness, calcium dysfunction and selective shrinkage—primarily in the memory and thinking areas), yet there is still no single known cause or cure. 

Some studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will soon become one of the most prevalent expenses in healthcare. I applaud the Women’s Brain Health Initiative for their dedication to promote research in this area. The direction of the strategy will depend greatly on the scientific research. For all the women in my life, I am committed to supporting any initiative that will help find a cure or at least improve the quality of life of those suffering from this disease.

As I delivered remarks at the launch of this initiative, I was reminded of a teaching colleague who, in her fifties, began to exhibit the classic sign of Alzheimer’s. She would lose focus when preparing individual lesson plans for her students and, as her condition progressed, she would have to ask fellow teachers to remind her of the precise learning difficulties of the student she was assessing. Within a year, she had to leave the profession she loved and just five years later, she could not even recognise family members.

Until there is a cure for Alzheimer’s, there are steps we can take to decrease the risk factors known to diminish brain function. Aging is a risk factor and, to my knowledge, we have not yet discovered a way to halt this natural process. However, we do know that healthy lifestyle choices help mitigate the negative effects of this progression. Exercise, exercise, exercise! People who exercise are 40 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Physical activity is imperative for the maintenance of the entire body and it is important to recognize that the brain is an organ of the body that needs to be cared for just as much as every other organ. Exercise helps the connectivity between nerve cells, so we need to do everything possible to increase our activity level.

During the launch of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative, we were served chocolate! The flavonoids in chocolate help improve blood flow, regulate cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so moderate levels of chocolate are good for the brain. Berries and caffeine are rich in antioxidants, which help maintain brain health. The monounsaturated fats in avocados improve blood flow and the vitamin E in almonds lowers the risk of stroke, another risk factor for Alzheimer’s. These fun facts do not replace the importance of making healthy eating choices at every meal. Diabetes and obesity are also risk factors, so it is important to work with our healthcare professionals to treat and manage all chronic conditions.

We can increase our health and help decrease our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The choice is ours. Choose a healthy lifestyle!

Chocolate anyone? The women in my life are worth it!

 

Organizations: Province House

Geographic location: Kings West

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