Rx for readers

Do computer programs & clinics that claim to stave off Alzheimer's disease really work?

alzheimers brain 88 (photo credit: )
alzheimers brain 88
(photo credit: )
I have seen ads for computer programs and clinics that claim to improve and preserve memory to stave off Alzheimer's disease. Can such a technique really work? - A.Z., Tel Aviv Prof. A. Mark Clarfield, director of geriatrics at Soroka University Medical Center and a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, replies: You are going to see more and more of this kind of thing, as aging baby boomers who want to remain "young" forever look for solutions and entrepreneurs try to cash in on our fear of aging. Some brain functions, such as the ability to recall names, deteriorate with age without this being the symptom of a disease, just as one's heart muscle capacity decreases with age (no matter how good a jogger you are, your best time, even with training, will rise as you age). But this is not heart disease, just ordinary aging. However, some functions, such as judgment and wisdom and even giving speeches, improve with age. Some older people suffer from dementia. And there is absolutely no evidence that "brain training" does any good for people suffering from either dementia or mild cognitive impairment - in fact it may do some harm by causing frustration in both the patient and the caregiver. It remains an interesting research question as to whether "brain training" can help with the normal cognitive decline of aging alluded to above. It may or may not; it may in certain doses or types of training, but it may not. We don't know yet, as it is far too early to make any reliable claims about this kind of training. For normal people not suffering from dementia, this kind of training will probably not do much harm except to the pocketbook and will do much good to the wallets of those offering it. In the meantime, do crossword or Sudoku puzzles or other mental exercise, but don't pay anyone to get you to do them. My almost 17-year-old grandson is becoming overly enthusiastic about energy drinks (Red Bull, etc.) His parents are against it, and won't let him bring it in the house, so that the younger siblings don't imitate him. So he buys it and drinks it when on the way to school. I tried to read the ingredients on a can in the supermarket, but the text was too small and blurry. Aside from caffeine (which I know is addictive), what else in the beverage is bad - or is it basically the caffeine that makes it off-limits? His parents say there are too many chemical ingredients they never heard of. What is the opinion of experts? - F.R.R., Jerusalem. Dr Gal Dubnov-Raz, a pediatrician and sports medicine expert at Hadassah University Medical Center on Jerusalem's Mount Scopus, comments: Advertisements for energy drinks claim they enhance mental and physical capacities. The beverages contain mainly sugar, caffeine and taurine (an amino acid, which is a building block for protein). Their ability to enhance vigor or physical power has never been adequately proven. All they provide your grandson with is excess calories and caffeine. But what is the reason for this enthusiasm about the drinks? Is he an avid sportsman, or is he simply tired because of lack of sleep? I would not ban his drinking completely, just limit it. But again, bear in mind the unnecessary intake of calories and caffeine. I am an 80-year-old man who has a problem with blocked nostrils interfering with breathing while sleeping. This results in dry mouth and causes restless and unsatisfactory sleep. While lying on my back, I find my nostrils are reasonably clear, but lying on either side, the corresponding lower nostril is blocked. I think the blockage consists of phlegm that's constantly in my throat and that I can't get rid of by swallowing or spitting it out. I have been to a number of ear-nose-and-throat specialists, but none was able to help me. Is there any hope? - G.M., by e-mail. Dr. Jean-Yves Sichel, chief of the ear, nose and throat department at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center, replies: You have to be examined. Changes in your nasal physiology don't suddenly appear at 80. But you might be getting prescription medications for high blood pressure or other conditions that can affect your nasal tissues. You might also suffer from apnea and snoring. Consult your doctor. I suggest you get a referral to a sleep lab, as treatment for this is available. Rx For Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx For Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to [email protected], giving your initials, age and residence.