VA Maryland Health Care System Offers Info about Alzheimer’s Disease

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January often sees adult children seeking help for parents struggling with memory issues after noticing them during the holiday

"It’s important to follow good basic health common sense," says Dr. David Loreck, a geriatric neuro-psychiatrist at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

With the graying of America, the incidence of Alzheimer’sDisease (AD) will increase. Clinicians are expecting the numbers to rise from approximately four million cases to nearly ten million cases by 2030. January often sees adult children seeking help for parents struggling with memory issues after noticing them during the holiday. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates there are approximately 571,000 Veterans with dementia. This includes an estimated 333,000 Veterans with dementia who are enrolled for VA health care, with an estimated 206,000 receiving care at a VA medical facility.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, the general term for a decline in memory and other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. While AD is the most common cause of dementia-- a wide range of illnesses can cause dementia or confusion in the elderly. Dr. David Loreck, a geriatric neuro- psychiatrist at the VA Maryland Health Care System helps oversee the health care system’s outpatient clinics for comprehensive AD and geriatric assessments, says that dementia, or disabling mental decline, should not be dismissed as part of the normal aging process, as many people still believe. While scientists grow closer to understanding how AD can be prevented or cured, current medications provide only mild improvement in symptoms, and no current drug offers a cure, or even slows the advance of the disease. However, Loreck stresses that it is important to follow some basic common sense guidelines to general preventive health care: “It’s important to follow good basic health common sense. Many try to overstate the value of diets, supplements, brain exercise programs with claims not supported by research,” Loreck says.

  • Control the biggest vascular risk factors that include chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and quit smoking to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis as well as mini or major strokes that may damage the brain.
  • Stay physically active. Regular exercise provides many benefits, including reducing the vascular risk factors that may contribute to brain cell loss or damage as well as improving mood and cognitive performance.
  • Use it or lose it! Stimulate your brain by engaging in as much mentally challenging and social activities as possible. Research has suggested increased mental stimulation and activity such as cross word puzzles, and as much social interaction as possible may help keep mental faculties sharp.
  • Avoid stress. Research suggests increased stress may have many negative effects on health.
  • Eat a heart healthy diet.

More tips from the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Food & Nutrition Service:

  •     Eat your fruit instead of drinking it! Aim for three servings each day.
  •     Add more vegetables to your plate, but remember potatoes, peas, and corn are higher in calories than the others.
  •     Avoid sweetened beverages: soda, juice, sports drinks, sweet tea, lemonade.
  •     Choose higher fiber whole grains - 100% whole wheat products are not your only option. Try experimenting with barley, quinoa, or wild rice for some variety.
  •     Lower salt intake: don’t use the salt shaker, and limit processed and canned foods.
  •     Choose fish or lean meats over fatty or processed meats.
  •     Limit saturated fat, choose low fat dairy products and limit fried foods.
  •     Make sure all of your packaged foods have 0 grams of trans fat on the nutrition label.
  •     Watch portion sizes! Remember, just because something is good, doesn’t mean more is better.

Care for Veterans with cognitive impairment is a high priority for the VA Maryland Health Care System with many Veterans returning from Iraq with traumatic brain injury. Increased attention of cognitive impairment with returning Veterans should stress the need for increased awareness when cognitive problems occur in many Veteran populations including the elderly.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Loreck is available as a subject matter expert on Alzheimer’s disease and dementias. To arrange an interview time, please e-mail Rosalia Scalia at rosalia.scalia(at)va.gov.

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The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to Veterans at two medical centers, one community living & rehabilitation center and six outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 55,000 Veterans from various generations receive care from the VAMHCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, the VAMHCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in Veterans’ health care, research and education. It costs nothing for Veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a Veteran can do. For information about VA health care eligibility and enrollment or how to apply for a VA medical care hardship to avoid future copayments for VA health care, interested Veterans are urged to call the Enrollment Center for the VA Maryland Health Care System, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7324 or visit http://www.maryland.va.gov.

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Rosalia Scalia
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