Presented by: J. Wesson Ashford, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist
Stanford/VA Aging Clinical Research Center and Alzheimer’s Center
may 30, 2007
In the early 20th century, it was first discovered in post-mortem studies that patients with Alzheimer’s disease had plaques in their brain cortex and neurofibrillary tangles that appeared as threads in neurons. These substances disturb the mechanism for placing new information into memory in Alzheimer’s, according to Dr. Ashford. With neurons having an average of 10,000 connections with other neurons, we are constantly seeing new things, making new connections, and getting rid of old ones. However, in persons with Alzheimer’s the connections fail to be made. Women are twice as likely to develop this dreaded disease because they live longer than men on average. Although Alzheimer’s is frequently not on a death certificate because it is at the end of a series of cascading events, Alzheimer’s is a growing massive factor in disability and dying for the general population, and for women in particular.
Today, Dr. Ashford, who has been studying Alzheimer’s since 1978, and many other researchers have established that Alzheimer’s is extremely common in older adults. For example, at age 62, 1:1000 will develop it, at age 77, 1:100 will develop it, and at 93, 1:10 will have Alzheimer’s. In the overall population, 10% of those over 65 have Alzheimer’s while only 5% have dementia due to other causes. Alzheimer’s can progress slowly and interfere with social and occupational function. In his engaging lecture, Dr. Ashford advised the audience to consider an essential question to be asked of a person who might have Alzheimer’s. He suggested that when a person who has consistently displayed memory problems is asked if they believe they have a memory problem and the answer is “no,” there very well could be a problem. It is when the person is oblivious about their otherwise apparent memory problem that the issues are more likely to become serious.
Among the highlights of Dr. Ashford’s lecture was a memory screening test he presented to the audience. The test was administered by showing pictures of common objects, some recurring and some shown for one time only. The participants were asked to recall whether they had seen the object before. It was a fun and eminently useful exercise to give a general idea of memory function. In addition, Dr. Ashford offered the following list to aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s:
- Get a regular blood pressure reading to be sure the systolic pressure is always less than 130.
- Watch your cholesterol and if it is elevated (above 200), discuss appropriate treatment with your doctor. Consider statin medications and increase your dietary intake of omega-3-fatty acids found in deep-sea finned fish (at least 3 times per week) and nuts, especially almonds.
- Exercise your body, mind, and spirit regularly. Maximize your education by doing mental puzzles. Stay active!
- Physically protect your brain. Wear a car seatbelt and a helmet when riding a bicycle. Decrease your fall risk and make your environment safe.
- Keep your Body Mass Index (BMI) in the optimal range of 19-25. Control your food intake. Decrease your risk of type II diabetes.
- Consult your doctor about your joint and muscle pains.
- Take vitamins daily (folate= 400 mcg, B12= 25 mcg, C= 250 mg, and E= 200 iu’s). Have your doctor check your B12 level occasionally after age 60.
- Keep your hormones stable and check with your doctor about your thyroid hormone and your likelihood of having diabetes.
- If you have difficulty sleeping, Dr. Ashford recommends 3-6 milligrams of melatonin at bedtime. If you snore, consult your doctor about sleep apnea.
- Monitor your memory regularly and have it screened yearly. Be sure people around you are not concerned about your memory.
For more information:
Stanford / VA Aging Clinical Research Center:
Stanford/VA Alzheimer’s Center:
Stanford Older Adult and Family Center:
Northern California chapter:
Alzheimer Foundation of America
The Alzheimer Forum (technical):
Dr. Ashford’s website:
Dr. Ashford’s links: