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Working with People Could Protect Brain from Alzheimer's Disease

An estimated 107,000 Washingtonians have Alzheimer's disease or dementia. (JI/flickr)
An estimated 107,000 Washingtonians have Alzheimer's disease or dementia. (JI/flickr)
July 25, 2016

SEATTLE — Washington state researchers are in Toronto this week joined by scientists from around the world for the annual Alzheimer's Association International Conference. The dementia research community is coming together to share studies and discoveries from their work.

University of Wisconsin researcher Ozioma Okonkwo presented his study Sunday, showing the benefits of work and social interaction for people at risk for Alzheimer's Disease.

"It highlights the known role that social interactions have in providing some protection against cognitive aging and potentially Alzheimer's Disease,” Okonkwo said.

Okonkwo broke "work" down into three categories: work with people, work with data, and work with things. He said work with people could provide the greatest protection for the brain because it involves real-time problem-solving, which keeps the brain more active than working with data or things.

Myriam Marquez of Seattle also attended the conference, but not as a researcher. In 2009, Marquez was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Seven years later, she remains an active advocate for a cure as a board member of the Alzheimer's Association. Marquez said she joined a support group when she was first diagnosed and is heartbroken that she is the last of the group able to carry on with her life.

"Most have died and a couple are in nursing homes, completely gone,” she said. "They just don't recognize, they can't speak, they can't do anything for themselves. And I'm still standing. I don't know why, but I feel blessed that I continue to remain in the early stage."

Marquez has a theory that her active lifestyle has had something to do with her enduring health.

In Washington, more than 100,000 people have dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, according to the Department of Social and Health Services. That number is expected to double over the next 25 years.

Marquez said the current campaign to find a cure could learn a lot from the public awareness campaign for breast cancer in the 1970s.

"Women who had breast cancer rose up and started marching and demanding a cure for breast cancer,” she said. "And I'm so proud of what they did because they managed to raise a lot of money and now they're finding cures."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA