Dr. Mehmet Oz
In honor of National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, Dr. Oz takes a closer look at the causes, symptoms and treatments of a disease that affects about 4.5 million Americans. Dr. Oz is joined by Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy*, director of psychiatry clinical trials in the department of psychiatry at Duke University and one of the nation's leading experts on brain longevity and Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Doraiswamy says symptoms of Alzheimer's indicate progressive memory worsening in the past 6–12 months, including trouble learning new information and trouble with familiar daily activities. "That's what really differentiates Alzheimer's from normal, everyday forgetfulness," says Dr. Doraiswamy. He emphasizes that Alzheimer's is a disease where early recognition is critical. "If you wait too long,10, 15, 20 percent of your brain tissue is lost, and at that time, I think treatments are going to be palliative," he says.

Treatments for Alzheimer's currently involve four medications, Dr. Doraiswamy says, that provide symptomatic improvement and keep patients functioning at a higher level for some extended periods of time.

Although the precise cause of Alzheimer's is still unknown, Dr. Doraiswamy says many major discoveries and advancements have been made in Alzheimer's research. In fact, he says that researchers are on the cusp of introducing a new diagnostic test that can visualize protein plaques building up on the living brain, and that these plaques may actually be the cause of the disease.

The good news, says Dr. Doraiswamy, is that there is increasing evidence to suggest that diet and lifestyle can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Mental stimulation can also ward off or postpone dementia, he says.

Rates of Alzheimer's are significantly lower in certain parts of the world, especially India. Turmeric, a spice found in many curries and an essential part of the Indian diet, has very important properties that have been linked with Alzheimer's prevention. Dr. Doraiswamy says turmeric is an antioxidant and seems to protect the brain from the build up of the plaques that are believed to cause the disease.

"Alzheimer's is not necessarily inevitable," says Dr. Doraiswamy. "While there may be a strong genetic component, I think lifestyle plays a huge role. There's an old saying that genetics load the gun and lifestyle pulls the trigger."