Health Tips Tuesday: Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and Dr. Stuart Anfang, the division chief of adult psychiatry at Baystate Health, spoke to Western Mass News.
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 7:59 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and Dr. Stuart Anfang, the division chief of adult psychiatry at Baystate Health, spoke to Western Mass News.

Most of us have heard of Alzheimer’s, but what is it and what causes it?

Anfang: “That’s a great question. Alzheimer’s is considered a kind of dementia. What we mean by dementia is an aggressive, typically irreversable decline in cognitive functioning, often including memory and other functioning. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, probably two-thirds or so of the people that have dementia have alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is characterized by the accumilation of what’s called amalod. It’s a kind of protein that basically accumulates over time in people’s brains and ultimately causes the brain cells and neurons to malfunction and ultimately to die.”

When people hear about Alzheimer’s, they get scared of the word itself and what it could bring on. What are some of the things people should be looking out for, whether it’s for themselves or a loved one?

Anfang: “First of all, I will plug the Alzheimer’s Association, who has an excellent website and if you go on their website, they have all sorts of information geared towards consumers, to patients, about those kinds of warning signs and how to discuss them with your primary care doctor, but to give you some examples, usually we see a decline in memory, memory for recent events, recent activities. Something common is word difficulties. People find difficulty coming up with the right word, the right name of things. Less ability to do everyday activities of daily functioning: balancing your checkbook, cooking, driving, those kinds of functioning. Sometimes, people will seem more withdrawn, isolated, more apathetic. Sometimes, people may seem more depressed, so that’s why it’s important for the evaluation to rule out depression or any other medical conditions that might present as memory difficulties.”

In your experience, what is the thing people could do to try and keep their brains healthy and avoid something like dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Anfang: “The most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age. As we’ve been at prolonging people’s lives by dealing with infectous disease, cardiovascular disease, a better control of diabetes, people are living longer and basically, the longer you live, the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s or other kinds of dementias. So among the important things to do are to control risk factors that might be modifiable to exercise, control your diet, control diabetes, control hypertension, things like that, and to keep your brain and yourself as actively engaged, both physically and mentally, as possible. Now, because of the advent of new treatments that are specific for Alzheimer’s for the first time, there are people who feel it’s particularly important to recognize what might be very early stages of Alzheimer’s. If those are diagnosed early enough and you’re able to take advantage of some of these early treatments, you might be able to signficantly alter the course of the condition.”