Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that eventually leads to total impairment of thinking and memory function. Alzheimer’s disease is both progressive and degenerative, which means that an individual with Alzheimer’s disease will continue to deteriorate until the end of her life. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it is possible to slow the decline of mental impairment with proper treatment and healthy lifestyle choices. Additionally, research suggests that relearning may be possible in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Slowing the Mental Decline of Alzheimer’s Disease
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease usually begin to appear around 60 to 65 years of age. Some of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Difficulty communicating
- Difficulty carrying out familiar tasks
- Mild memory loss.
Research shows that certain healthy lifestyle choices can prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. These include:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Participating in activities that stimulate the brain
- Staying socially active.
Relearning and Alzheimer’s Disease
While healthy lifestyle choices may help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, many people wonder if there is any memory therapy available to recapture the memory functions that have already been lost.
A 2002 study published in the journal Neuropsychology examined the connection between relearning and Alzheimer’s disease in 12 participants who exhibited early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Researchers trained the participants in face-name associations using six sets of cards. Each set contained two cards. One card showed a photo of a friend, family member or famous person whom the participant had trouble remembering. The other card contained the name of the person in the photo.
The researchers employed several different types of memory aids in their training, including:
- Expanding rehearsal (allowing increasingly longer time periods to elapse between each review of learned information)
- Mnemonic devices (associating the picture with a consistent memory cue)
- Vanishing cues (removing an increasing number of letters from the name of the individual in the photo).
The researchers were also careful to minimize stress (which affects memory) by reducing the risk that the participants would make errors during their training.
As a whole, the group demonstrated significant improvement in these face-name associations, even six months after the training had ended.
The results of this study suggest that some functions of the memory remain unharmed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. They may also indicate that with memory intervention strategies, some level of relearning is possible. However, much greater research is needed before experts conclude that relearning is possible in those with Alzheimer’s.
American Psychological Association. (2002). Memory training may help some Alzheimer’s patients in the early stages of the disease. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2002/10/memory-training.aspx.
Clare, L. et al. (2002). Relearning faceâ€“name associations in early Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychology, 16(4), 538-547. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from : http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/neu-164538.pdf.
Lunde, A. (2008). Lifestyle strategies may slow or prevent decline. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from : http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-blog/MY00267.