By Neelum T. Aggarwal, MD
The passing of the actor Gene Wilder — remembered by many for his lovable portrayal of Willy Wonka — further reinforced that fact that Alzheimer’s disease does not spare anyone. Many people were no doubt surprised to hear about his diagnosis and that he died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. After all, Gene Wilder was wildly talented, engaged in creative activities all of his life, appeared physically spry and had a wonderful imagination. How could this happen to him?
Indeed, Alzheimer’s disease dementia can happen to anyone, and crosses race/ethnicity and social economic status. More than 5.5 million people in the United States officially have Alzheimer’s disease dementia, which is an underestimation, as many people live with the disease never receive a diagnosis.
Minorities, African-Americans and Latinos are appearing to be hit harder with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. African-Americans are at least 1.5 times more likely to develop the disease, and the data suggests the same for Latinos. Recent data is also confirming that sex and gender differences are present in Alzheimer’s disease — women are developing the disease more than men.
Lifestyle factors that may increase Alzheimer’s risk
Comorbid medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies and depression all can lead to poor cognitive function and can be risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease. People with a history of hypertension also may have a greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease dementia and other dementias. In addition, people who have decreased heart function are two to three times more likely to develop significant memory loss compared to those with better heart function. Lastly, those with multiple cardiovascular risk factors were more likely to have impairment in learning, memory and verbal fluency tests and worsened over time.
In recognition of National AmeriCorps Week, AmeriCorps member Simone Blake explains her work with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
I’m serving as a healthy nutrition and aging educator at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center through AmeriCorps’ Healthy Communities Corps. Its mission is to improve food quantity and quality in underserved communities across Chicago and Cook County.
The AmeriCorps program engages over 80,000 men and women in intensive service to tackle pressing problems each year, through thousands of nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community and faith-based groups across the country.
Everyone should have opportunities to reach positive health outcomes. Aging adults in our current fast food nation find themselves stranded. They need fiber and nutrient-dense foods when only high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are available.
Traci Colvin is Rush’s Wayne M. Lerner Manager of the Year
As the research study manager for the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Traci Colvin oversees its two largest epidemiological studies – the Religious Orders Study and the Memory and Aging Project. Each study includes more than 1,100 participants, who are evaluated annually until death and donate their organs afterward.
Colvin is on call 24 hours a day to ensure that autopsies are performed promptly after death, which often means being on the phone with the patient’s family, the funeral home and the hospital, frequently in the middle of the night for several hours. This commitment is just one of the many reasons why Colvin’s staff nominated her for the Manager of the Year Award.
“Much of our success can be attributed directly to her leadership and character,” says Tracy Faulkner, RADC department manager.
Colvin’s staff is a diverse group of 26 people, made up of research study coordinators, project coordinators, nurses, phlebotomists and research assistants. Most of these staff members work in teams off site for days at a time, sometimes out of state, collecting research data on participants. In order for them to be successful, they must work well together. Continue reading