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O'Brien discusses Alzheimer's disease, dementia, with local seniors

Friday, August 11, 2017
OBrien visit

Durham seniors learned about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia on Tuesday, from the benefits and pitfalls of mice as research subjects, to what they can do to preserve their memory and function, to the future of Alzheimer’s research,  thanks to a visit from Department Chair Rich O’Brien, MD, PhD.

At the Durham Center for Senior Life, O’Brien spoke to a group of about 30 senior residents and visitors, opening his lecture with a question: “Who pays for Alzheimer’s research?” His answer was the audience, who as members of the general public, pay taxes which go to the National Institutes of Health, who fund the majority of Alzheimer's related research.

After thanking the audience for helping to fund his research, O’Brien covered the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. He discussed his clinical experience treating patients with dementia and working with their caregivers, spoke about his own studies as well as trends in Alzheimer’s related research, and talked about his experience seeing his own parents both develop dementia. He also answered questions from his audience, from risk factors for Alzheimer’s to the differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“Everything [O’Brien] said was very helpful,” said Eulah Cole, a Durham resident who attended the speech with her twin sister. “I was a registered nurse, so some of it I knew already, but it really freshened my memory.”

Cole said that the talk encouraged her to keep up the habits of her mother and grandmother, who lived until 93 and 98, respectively, to stay healthy: daily walks and time in the garden, as well as purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables every time she shops.

Edmonds and twins
Cole (right), and her twin sister (middle), greet Henry Edmonds, MEd, who helped organize O'Brien's visit.

The event was part of Duke’s “Stay Fit For Life” program, which organizes lectures at the Durham Center for Senior Life, the second Tuesday of every month, as well as other locations. Cole and her sister wore their Duke t-shirts to the event.

Takeaway facts about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia:

  • Dementia is a set of symptoms--in short, memory problems that prevent people from being able to take care of themselves--while Alzheimer's is a specific disease that causes those symptoms. So dementia is similar to a sore throat, while Alzheimer's is closer to a virus or bacteria that causes that sore throat.
  • O’Brien’s number one rule for preventing dementia or Alzheimer’s-related symptoms: “Keep meticulous care of your general health.” By exercising, eating a healthy diet, avoiding stress, and taking care of other medical conditions, you’ll lower your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and prevent “tipping point” events that make symptoms more likely to appear.
  • There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease on the horizon, but we’ll probably know a lot more about preventable risk factors for the condition within the next decade. Knowing these will help people cut their own risk, just as learning about the risks of high blood pressure, smoking and other risk factors has helped prevent many heart attacks.