Mindfully Proactive—A Family history of Alzheimer’s disease
When Dan Carlson’s mother began experiencing memory problems seven years ago, he was understandably concerned about his future—especially now that she lives in an Alzheimer’s care facility. Studies show that having a parent with Alzheimer’s disease significantly increases one’s own risk for developing the disease, a topic Dan discussed with his primary care provider.
Assessing the genetic link
Dan’s physician referred him to the NorthShore Center for Brain Health for a genetic test that would tell them if Dad carried a variation of a gene (Apolipoprotein e4, or “APOE e4”) known to run in families that increases risk of Alzheimer’s. While not all patients choose to have DNA testing, Dan wanted to know. “For me, knowledge is power—and I thought it would be better to know and be able to take action armed with knowledge” recalled Carlson, who learned he carries two copies of APOE e4.
Research suggests that the impact of APOE e4 on developing Alzheimer’s depends on health and lifestyle factors, such as sleep, exercise and dietary habits, and the presence and treatment status chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. “Genetics isn’t destiny. What’s important is how you use the information in context with other factors,” explained Peter Hulick, MD, Medical Director at NorthShore’s Mark R. Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine.
Before Dan met with the Center for Brain Health team, he had already embarked on a journey to improve his health by losing weight and increasing his fitness level. Receiving a positive result on his genetic test added compelling motivation to take proactive control over even more aspects of his health, including an improved diet and placing more importance on quality sleep.
“We know there are many important factors in keeping the brain as healthy as possible, including exercise, diet and sleep,” noted Neurologist Chad Yucus, MD, who specializes in memory disorders including Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that getting adequate hours of deep sleep may reduce beta-amyloid protein deposits in the brain and that aerobic exercise can prevent age-related brain atrophy, leading to improved memory and brain growth in older adults.
Today, Carlson has shed over 80 pounds. “I intend to take all the steps I can to have the best outcome,” said Carlson. “This isn’t a sentence. It’s a propensity.” Dan’s diet no longer resembles the standard American fare he grew up on. He runs 5 miles, three times a week, cycles on the days he doesn’t run, and swims most days. “It feels good—and if I don’t get out for some reason, I really miss it.”
“I have once-a-year follow-up appointments at the Center, and it’s a good refresh,” said Carlson, who enjoys staying on top of the latest research and trends in brain health. Carlson has also avoided heart disease, a condition that has affected other men in his family. “I feel fortunate that I got directed to the Center and had help guiding my nutrition and exercise.”
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