Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Robert Whitcomb: Aging with the arts

[14 September 2007 - Providence Journal] With the aging of the U.S. population, the specter of Alzheimer’s looms ever larger. After all, the fastest-growing cohort of the population is 85 and older. But we should not consider Alzheimer’s a problem only for people in their 60s and older. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 250,000 to 600,000 people in America have early onset of the disease. There are devastating cases affecting people in their 50s, 40s and even late 30s. This needs more attention from medical researchers. As often happens in medicine, treatment can come from strange places. For instance, a current study in the journal Neurology suggests that statin drugs, taken to ward off heart attacks in people with high cholesterol, can help to at least slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Consuming coffee, believe it or not, may also be helpful. New medications to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s are being investigated at Boston University ( www.bualzresearch.org; [617] 414-1078) and elsewhere. While we await medical breakthroughs, there are lifestyle actions that we can take to fend off dementia as long as we can and to help make patients’ lives comfortable. ... Another strategy is using the arts to retain, or reawaken, our core identities. In her book, I Remember Better When I Paint, Berna Huebner movingly describes, through the case of one patient, how some demented elderly people can be reconnected to themselves and their pasts with the help of art students who work with them in creating art. More

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