ALBANY Beverly Sanborn stood at the front of the room, laying out the facts about dementia and Alzheimers disease.
There arent any drugs to prevent it, she told the packed room May 10 at the Albany Community Center. Look at the last 20 years how many outstanding drugs and treatments we have for cancer. But you look at the field were in for Alzheimers and dementia zero.
Thats the bad news. The good news is that there does appear to be a benefit for exercising your brain.
Sanborn was presenting Brain games for mental fitness, a public outreach program presented by Belmont Village, the senior housing facility that will open on San Pablo Avenue this summer. Sanborn is a gerontologist and a vice president of program development for Belmont.
What we now know as Alzheimers disease was first discovered by Alois Alzheimer in 1906. However, not much more was known until the 1970s when a research boom in the field began. It used to be thought that it was just senility, Sanborn said in an interview. Hardening of the arteries.
Plaques and tangles were discovered in the brains of people who had suffered dementia. This was a key breakthrough. Universities began building brain banks, where donors could donate their brains for study.
The plaques and tangles are similar to those found in the brains of former boxers and football players who suffered head traumas.
It shows you that one cause of getting dementia is head injury, Sanborn said.
So what can a person do? Diet and exercise have shown benefits, as well as quitting smoking, according to Sanborn. Exercise is the single most important thing a person can do, she said, adding that patients should check with their doctor. She said if you can afford it, hire a personal trainer.
Social contact is important as well.
To add to brain health, you really need to stay connected to social groups, she said.
But its also important to exercise your brain. Sanborn gave the audience several brain games to try. One was to study a list of words and they see if you can remember them. She also gave out her 10-digit phone number and asked who could remember it. Sanborn explained that the hippocampus can store seven numbers but not 10.
You can get the first three, maybe one or two at the end and it mushes in the middle, she explained.
Sanborn later expanded on that thought.
It has to be something new to your brain, she said. You have to exercise a whole range of things in your brain.
Sanborn continued, You want to push yourself harder than you normally would. Make yourself memorize a poem today. You really have to make demands on yourself. Dont write down or take your grocery list or put it on your iPhone. Memorize it. Stop using speed dial. Nobody is going to do that, but try to memorize your numbers.
Dont take the easy way. Our civilization has made everything so speedy and easy that it really is affecting us.
Sanborn began working on Alzheimers and dementia in the 1980s. She graduated from UC Berkeley and earned a masters degree in social work at UCLA. She developed therapeutic programs in the field. Her early career work had a lot of trial and error.
I started out in day care, Sanborn said. We had to learn, there was no one to teach us. What worked and why, what didnt work and why on a daily basis. What kind of interventions were positive.
Around the same time, she started giving talks on the subject. She does the Brain Game presentation about once a month and also works with smaller groups, either with the public or with professionals.
The goal, as with all therapy, is to help people.
The person and the family gives up, she said. A person with dementia can have a pretty interesting life for a while. It doesnt have to come to an end. But you do need to do some lifestyle changes.
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