Alzheimer's a tough nut to crack

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If there is any subject that attracts readers' attention it is Alzheimer's disease. It seems that every story we publish about the disease–from any angle—finds its way to the “Most Popular” list of articles.

Interest certainly is understandable given the dramatic growth in the number of people with dementia and its devastating consequences. (The number of people afflicted with dementia is expected to increase by a whopping 10% increase from 2005 to 2010, Alzheimer's Disease International recently reported. An estimated 115 million people are expected to have dementia by mid-century. See story here.

The urgency in finding a cure has never been greater. And scientists are in hot pursuit. Still, looking back at all the studies and reports, it's hard not to wonder how close they really are to understanding the disease, much less finding a cure.

There's certainly no shortage of research on prevention. Scientists have examined everything from education (the more the better, according to our story on Aug. 12), to Wednesday's story on extra virgin olive oil as a way to keep Alzheimer's at bay.

Countless studies have pointed to the benefits of mental stimulation and feeding the brain with good food, such as dark-colored fruits and vegetables, and weekly servings of fish and nuts. Exercise is also important. What is good for the heart is good for the brain, the Alzheimer's Association believes.

Meanwhile, there is increasing knowledge about the disease on the cellular level. A recent story, for example, found that the N60 section of a protein called “RanBP9” is now believed to be associated with elevated levels of known Alzheimer's pathogen amyloid beta plaques.

It seems researchers are inching ever closer to cracking the code of this illness. But until then, the mystery remains unsolved. After all, we can't definitely be sure that learning Chinese later in life or exercising five days a week will protect us—even though it might certainly help.

Right now it seems that the best thing we can do is sprinkle olive oil on our green leafy spinach salad—and hope for the best.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.