Magazine article Insight on the News

A Healthy Body May Lead to Sound Mind in Old Age

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Healthy Body May Lead to Sound Mind in Old Age

Article excerpt

Researchers are discovering that a healthy lifestyle as a young adult may be the most effective deterrent to vascular dementia and ether mental Illnesses that plague senior citizens.

Researchers are finding more and more evidence that age-related loss of mental ability -- the disease called vascular dementia -- can be delayed. Factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, excess weight and lack of exercise set people up for the disease, says David Desmond, a neurology and pathology professor at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Vascular dementia refers to an incurable condition characterized by memory loss preceding brain deterioration and emotional instability. One physician says the illness is "under-emphasized," yet it is the second-most common cause, after Alzheimer's disease, of the baffling delusions, irrational gibbering and hygienic dysfunction associated with aging. Indeed, vascular dementia often is confused with Alzheimer's, but the former can appear far more suddenly than the latter.

It's important to note that memory loss, commonly understood to be linked to Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, can be normal. Forgetting where the car keys are, or even what day it is, doesn't denote senility or illness. Such lapses are vastly different from the demented person's inability to eat, walk or use a bathroom. Then, too, even severe symptoms such as confusion and speech impairment can be short-lived and reversible. Patients can exhibit such behavior as a result of depression, medication, thyroid disease, vitamin B-12 deficiency, infection and substance abuse.

Vascular dementia is different. Ninety percent of such cases are caused by "mini-strokes" -- brief blockages or ruptures in a blood vessel of the brain that interrupt the flow of oxygen-bearing blood to cells and tissue -- which the victim doesn't notice. Deprived of oxygen, brain cells die and parts of the mind or body no longer function properly.

No one knows how many people are afflicted with vascular dementia, but the rate increases with age: Roughly 2 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 75 are afflicted, and one in five people older than 80 suffers from dementia in one form or another. In all, some 10 percent of those older than 65 are intellectually impaired, and roughly 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. …

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