If your family has a history of Alzheimer's you can move yourself out of the high risk category

The best way to learn about Alzheimer’s disease is also the worst way.

That’s what happened with my husband’s family. Almost 10 years ago, the family was dealt a terrible blow when doctors confirmed his mom had AD.

We quickly learned that a family history of AD sharply increases risk. As we’ve watched his mother decline, we can’t help but worry about the chilling risk for my husband’s own future.

Every once in a while, this job becomes a little more personal and the research I uncover hits much closer to home. This is one of those times.

So when I stumbled upon new research showing how much easier it could be for my husband, and others with AD family history, to take themselves out of the high risk category, I told him first — and now I’m eager to share it with you.

Walking the walk

A few years ago, researchers had a remarkable plan. They created a dye that would bind to beta-amyloid deposits that corrupt the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Then they used a PET scan to track beta-amyloid buildup.

In 2008 they had a breakthrough.

Using the dye (called PiB), they were able to track AD progress in a living patient for the very first time. (An autopsy later confirmed accuracy.)

Two years ago, I told you about one of the first studies to put the PiB technique to use.

Results showed that those with a family history of AD were four times more likely to have beta-amyloid deposits. The study also confirmed that AD risk is even higher in those with AD mothers. You can imagine that that news sent me into high gear — trying to figure out what to do for my husband.

Now PiB is breaking important new ground again.

Researchers recruited more than 200 cognitively normal adults over the age of 45. Using PiB and PET scan imaging, they found that sedentary subjects with a family history of AD were much more likely to show early stages of amyloid buildup compared to those who stayed active.

These results closely follow another study I told you about. Those results showed that walking just five miles each week protects vital brain structure in AD patients. Those with mild cognitive impairment benefited as well.

This is vital information for the millions of people who inherit AD risk. And, personally, I was thrilled to read it since my husband actually loves to exercise. (I know…I don’t get it either.)

It’s remarkably simple. Just get out of the house and walk. This will yield benefits in a dozen different ways. But none of them is more important than saving your mind from a tragic decent into Alzheimer’s.

“Exercise Engagement as a Moderator of the Effects of APOE Genotype on Amyloid Deposition” Archives of Neurology, Published online ahead of print 1/9/12, archneur.ama-assn.org

“Walking slows progression of Alzheimer’s” Radiological Society of North America, Press release, 11/29/10, eurekalert.org

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