Treating Alzheimer's Like A Brain Injury

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Use it or lose it. That slogan has people's knees knocking when they face the spectre of growing old and losing their memory to Alzheimer's disease.

That fate potentially awaits 10 million American baby boomers, according to the Alzheimer's Association's 2008 Facts and Figures. John Ashby, a medical technology researcher from the Alzheimer's Innovation Institute in Calgary has a discovery targeted at turning those figures into myth.

Ashby unveils an innovative brain exercise discovery at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease today. Preliminary trials show the Ashby Memory Method improves memory in people with Alzheimer's disease.

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"The brain is a very complex organ, but we've shown that a comprehensive brain fitness approach can return function once you've started to lose your memory due to Alzheimer's disease or dementia," said Ashby. "It's much like taking your brain to the gym."

Gayle Burrows, a Vancouver caregiver trained as a registered nurse, has seen the dramatic improvement. One Alzheimer's participant, Timothy, improved from a 16 to a 26 out of 30 on the standard Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE). "After a year with the Ashby Memory Method he is brighter, happier and he remembers my name," said Burrows. "I can finally say there is something we can do to help. It is exciting."

It can equate into noticeable improvement in the ability to dress, use the phone, converse and engage in activities halted by frustration and memory loss.

Ashby's mother, the late Dr. Mira Ashby, received the Order of Canada for pioneering the work of rehabilitating people with brain injuries. Ashby theorized that Alzheimer's brains could also be rehabilitated.

"With 42% of people predicted to get Alzheimer's by age 85 there's a lot of impetus to do this work," said the 53 year old researcher. In 2007 field trials, 50 participants with average mental states of 15-25 - characteristic of early-to-mid Alzheimer's disease - showed measurable improvement. Results have been sustained for up to 1.5 years. The non-drug therapy can be administered by a family caregiver - especially important because 85% of people with Alzheimer's live at home.

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