USU research sheds new light on Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases

A study that was started over 15 years ago by Utah State University researches, and that involved 90 percent of the senior population in Cache County, has shed new light on Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases. In 1994, researchers started to investigate the genetic and environmental risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Partnered with Duke University and Johns Hopkins University, Utah State has lead the way, and Profesor JoAnn Tschanz, the clinical director, said the data they have received will be very beneficial for years to come.About 5100 seniors participated in the study. Back in 1995, Tschanz said they visited all 5092 participants in their homes where they were led through various screening tests and clinical assessments. Some were then sent with research nurses and Neuropsychology technicians who would conduct more research through evaluation. She said they repeated this process in 1998, 2002 and 2005. As of now, they are analyzing the data they have collected and doing various smaller-scale studies.A particular study looked at the spouses of those who have dementia or Alzheimer’s and if their risk for developing those diseases were higher. Tschanz said they found that husbands with a wife who had dementia had 12 times the risk of developing dementia as well. Wife’s with husbands with the disease had 3.7 times the risk.Even though there is no cure-all for degenerative diseases, Tschanz said this research has proved important in figuring out ways to help prevent Alzheimer’s.”Of course we don’t have a magic pill that will absolutely prevent the risk but there are some things that have been found to be helpful in our study and other studies,” she said.Those things are getting physical exercise every day, which helps oxidize the brain, and eating wisely with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. She said diets that are linked to good cardiovascular health turns out to be very healthy for one’s brain.Several USU students have served as interviewers, neuropsychological technicians and have helped analyze the data and Tschanz said their help has been beneficial for everyone.”We have had several master thesis and doctoral dissertations written from this work, and have been published in peer reviewed journals,” she said.Tschanz also plans on incorporating what she has learned from this study into her classrooms where she teaches Nero-Psychology and some classes in the biological basis of behavior.As for the next step, she said they are writing a “host” of papers and submitting them to scientific journals, and looking at doing further research into understanding genetic makeup and how that interacts with environmental factors.

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