Arizona expert offers inside look at Alzheimer’s
By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
Can’t remember where you parked your car or why you walked into a particular room? Do names of friends and acquaintances elude you?
The good news is that these symptoms alone don’t necessarily indicate you have Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Michael Malek-Ahmadi, a leading Arizona neuropsychologist, told an audience of nearly 100 students during a presentation Wednesday at Grand Canyon University.
More than likely, these signs are consequences of a naturally aging brain.
But if you get confused about time, place and events, become lost and disoriented easily, and are confounded by money, you might be one of the 5.3 million Americans who suffer from the progressive illness, Malek-Ahmadi said.
Speaking to a packed lecture hall at the invitation of the Psychology Department in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Malek-Ahmadi, a Research Bioinformatics Analyst at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, provided an overview about Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s the sixth-leading cause of death, he said, and health care costs for treating it are expected to rise from about $226 billion to $1.1 trillion in 2050.
Despite extensive research, scientists are still unclear what causes Alzheimer’s disease, Malek-Ahmadi said. They have determined that it is characterized by the presence in the brain of plaques, which are abnormal clusters of sticky proteins, and tangles, which are twisted protein fibers.
“Age is the biggest risk factor,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “Fifty percent of people 85 years and older have it.”
The disease causes the brain to progressively deteriorate over time. It disrupts behaviors, thoughts and daily life activities.
For example, it’s not uncommon for Alzheimer’s patients to be midway through a journey and suddenly not know where they are – or where they are going.
It affects such “executive brain functions” as planning, memory, attention, problem solving, mental flexibility and verbal reasoning.
To diagnose it, physicians must rule out other problems.
“Alzheimer’s disease is a diagnosis of exclusion,” Malek-Ahmadi said. “First, we have to eliminate (causes),” such as depression, vitamin deficiency, medication side effects and so on.
Some factors that can contribute to the disease are age, previous head injury, Type 2 diabetes, the presence of the APOE e4 gene and family history – especially on the mother’s side, he said.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, but not all dementias are Alzheimer’s, he said. He also said there’s no correlation between aluminum and Alzheimer’s, but there is a connection between keeping a mind active with such activities as crossword puzzles and building a cognitive reserve.
Students were engaged and had questions ready for Malek-Ahmadi after his talk concluded.
“I think the talk was awesome,” said freshman Mackenzie Hatchell. “It’s really interesting how the brain develops.”
Junior Autumn Lee wanted to learn more.
“It was really informational,” she said. “This is an area I want to study.”
Dr. Sherman Elliott, Dean of CHSS, said, “It’s beautiful to see our learners engaged with such meaningful, contemporary topics as this progressive disease.”
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or [email protected].