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Alzheimer’s 101 – Mayo Clinic

Ronald C. Petersen, MD, Ph.D.: A couple of decades ago, we thought of Alzheimer’s as some kind of end-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Dennis Douda: dr Ron Peterson is director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Research Center and is on a mission to unravel the mysteries of this dreaded disease. With the help of volunteers, his staff has learned that a combination of genetic and environmental factors appear to play a role. Also, complex changes in the brain begin a decade or two before symptoms appear. That allows doctors to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and intervene sooner than ever.

Ronald C. Petersen, MD, Ph.D.: We have imaging modalities. We have what are called biomarkers, meaning blood tests, cerebrospinal fluid tests, that give us a clue as to what’s going on in the brain.

Dennis Douda: dr Peterson says that the biological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease are called plaques and tangles, the proteins depositing in the brain, ultimately leading to the failure of nearby nerve cells.

Ronald C. Petersen, MD, Ph.D.: But usually that process starts in the memory part of the brain, the so-called temporal lobe, or around the hippocampus in the brain.

Dennis Douda: High-tech imaging allows them to monitor not only changes in physical structure, but also chemical functions within the brain. Peterson says that’s all very well scientifically.

Ronald C. Petersen, MD, Ph.D.: But we’re hopeful that, in fact, as the field advances, we may be able to develop therapies, drugs, immunization therapies that may actually have an impact on this underlying disease process.

Dennis Douda: Meanwhile, Dr. Peterson says that each of us can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that a heart-healthy diet and participation in regular physical, intellectual, and social activities reduce our risk.

Ronald C. Petersen, MD, Ph.D.: Aging doesn’t have to be a passive process, where we just sit back and watch it happen.

Dennis Douda: For the Mayo Clinic News Network, I’m Dennis Dota.

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