Can You Ward Off Alzheimer’s Disease?

August 01, 2017

With more than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease - the most common form of dementia - chances are that you, your family or friends have or will be impacted by the disease during your lifetime. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.

To assist those affected in our area, Shore recently opened the Flora Baker Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, the first of its kind in the region. Neurologist David Roeltgen, MD, serves as the medical director of the center which was made possible thanks to a $500,000 donation to the Ocean City Masonic Lodge #171 from Flora Baker and her husband Benjamin G. Baker, who were residents of Ocean City from 1954 until their passing. In honor of her husband Benjamin, Flora Baker made an endowment gift to the Masons earmarked for Alzheimer’s treatment. 

While Alzheimer's disease cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed, Dr. Roeltgen, who has 35 years’ experience in diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, believes that exercise, cognitive activity (reading, completing puzzles, etc.), socialization, and maintaining good health (controlling blood pressure and blood sugar, eating healthy, and avoiding smoking, alcohol and drugs) can in part ward off the disease.

"Compared to 20 years ago, we are seeing a 20 percent decrease of dementia cases among 85 year olds," said Dr Roeltgen. "There is a risk reduction which is a result of greater education on health. There is also epidemic data that suggests the risk is diminished for those with a high school education or greater."

Dr. Roeltgen does not suggest that simply by becoming healthy, social and active in both body in mind that one can stave off Alzheimer's disease.

"The research and studies are still unclear because there are so many unknowns. All four recommendations interplay with one another, but each upon itself are independent factors.  For example, someone who exercises may not be a smoker, so was exercise or the lack of smoking the reason why someone did not suffer from Alzheimer's? Take someone who likes to play bridge in a social setting. Was it the cognitive activity or the socialization that helped them? Does a high school education help the individual make better choices or land a better job, or are people with a higher education more likely to be exposed to the information?"

One of the things that Dr. Roeltgen and others agree upon is that these lifestyle and health choices need to begin decades before the threat of dementia from Alzheimer's disease is even a possibility.

"While it is very uncommon for Alzheimer's disease to affect someone before they are 60 years of age, people need to focus on these factors early in life - it begins in young adulthood or earlier," said Roeltgen. "We start to see a natural decline in memorization skills starting at age 20. That is when the ability to modify the brain begins. We need to be asking questions and paying attention sooner."

Dr. Roeltgen currently provides cognitive diagnostic evaluations at the Flora Baker Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, located at Shore Physicians Group’s Marmora office in the ShopRite Plaza at 4 Roosevelt Blvd. To schedule an appointment, call 609-365-6226.  For more information, visit www.shorephysiciansgroup.com.