How low is your Alzheimer's IQ?

March 23, 2009 3:33:24 PM PDT
One in eight people over 65 has Alzheimer's disease in the United States. Experts predict that number could increase by 70 percent in the next decade. It's a mysterious disease that's surrounded more by fear than facts. Could Alzheimer's disease come from food?

"I think the Food and Drug Administration had looked over 100 studies involved in aspartame," said Dr. Maria Carrillo, director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago.

Could it come from our genes?

"If your father has Alzheimer's then I would tell you you are at a higher risk already," said Dr. R. Scott Turner, director of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Can doing puzzles prevent Alzheimer's disease?

"I think people have to be careful about the claims that they make," said Dr. Yaakov Stern, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

True or false? Brain games will ward off the disease.

"Keeping intellectually engaged as you get older will enrich your life, but in my opinion, the idea that it will protect you from Alzheimer's disease is absolute hogwash," said Dr. Joseph Rogers, president of Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Ariz.

The market for brain stimulation products in the United States doubled in the past two years to $225 million. Most experts say they can't hurt, but there's still debate over whether they work.

"The more new things you do and the more learning that you do, the more you are keeping it, and I call that use it or lose it," said Dr. Liana Dawson, a neurologist at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Fla.

Do women have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease?

"We just know that more women have Alzheimer's disease than men," Dr. Carrillo said.

One in six women are at risk for Alzheimer's compared to one in ten men. The main reason -- women live longer.

Can a blow to the head increase your chances of getting Alzheimer's?

"Based on our study, that's true," said Dr. Kiminobu Sugaya, a molecular biologist at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla.

Scientists say concussions put added stress on the brain. Head trauma can trigger Alzheimer's or speed up its progression.

"Football players or people playing in contact sports should be very careful, especially if they have a family history of Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Carrillo explained.

Fact or fiction: Alzheimer's is connected to your cholesterol level.

"People who have high cholesterol are at greatly increased risk of Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Rogers said.

Researchers say high cholesterol levels accelerate the formation of plaque in the brain. One study found people with high cholesterol levels -- between 250 and 500 milligrams -- were one-and-a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer's than those with lower levels.

"I think it's one of the best answers we have right now for what you can do to prevent Alzheimer's disease -- get your cholesterol down," Dr. Rogers said.

Finally, true or false: Drinking out of cans or using aluminum foil causes Alzheimer's.

"There is no basis for it in human research," Dr. Carrillo said.

Scientists say nothing in your kitchen cabinets will lead to Alzheimer's.

"Aluminum doesn't cross the blood brain barrier that's the safety barrier we have," Dr. Sugaya said.

There are still more questions than answers.

"You're just blind," said Felicia McColl, whose mother has Alzheimer's. "You just don't realize all these little things."

Arm yourself with facts. If you live past 85, your risk of getting the disease increases to 50 percent. Also, Alzheimer's is not a natural part of aging, and it is a deadly disease. These are important points that researchers say are often misunderstood.

For years there have been rumors linking deodorant and dental fillings to Alzheimer's. Scientists say neither one is a cause of the disease.