July 20, 2024
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Groups Present Current Research on Alzheimer’s Disease

Englewood Hospital, Jewish Home Family at Rockleigh and Bar Ilan University joined together on December 2 to host a presentation entitled “The Future of Treating Memory Decline: Developing a Vaccine for Alzheimer’s Disease.” CEO Warren Geller represented Englewood Hospital, celebrating 125 years of health service to the New Jersey community and its second year as one of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. The event was held in the newly dedicated auditorium of the hospital and was preceded by a lovely buffet dinner in the adjacent lobby area.

Carol Silver Elliot, president of Jewish Home Family, welcomed the attendees to the centennial lecture, the culminating event of the year-long celebration of its 100th anniversary. She praised the Jewish Family Home for its mission in developing, and overseeing, the very best of care, services, and advice for the elderly and their families at home and in their facilities, now and in the future, consistent with Jewish tradition and values.

Representing co-sponsor American Friends of Bar Ilan University was Harold Charosh, director of development. Bar Ilan University, now celebrating its 60th year, educates 33,000 students on its award-winning campus outside Tel Aviv as well as its four regional colleges throughout Israel.

Reacting to an impending dire shortage of doctors in Israel in the coming years, Bar Ilan University was selected by a blue-ribbon governmental commission to establish Israel’s fifth medical school. The Galilee region was selected to host the new medical school as it promotes Bar Ilan’s ideological mission of strengthening and enriching all segments of Israeli society and reaching out to the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. For the Galilee area, this new facility will bring about good health care and thus a better quality of life, which will attract new businesses and talented individuals to the region. And so, in October 2011, the BIU Medical School opened its doors in Safed, the capital of the Galilee, to 124 students. Now in its fifth year, the school has almost 600 medical students.

Dr. Eitan Okun, a neuroscientist and international lecturer, is based on the Safed campus where his team concentrates on molecular mechanisms that delay the onset of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.

Dr. Okun wants us all to age gracefully. The good news is that we are living much longer lives on average. The downside is that with this increased life expectancy, we will see a dramatic increase in our post-retirement population of dementias such as Alzheimer’s. If we are lucky, we will experience a mild decrease in cognitive capability as we age. However, if we are unfortunately attacked by the evil amyloid beta protein, we will experience dramatic cognitive decline.

The focus of current R&D is early diagnosis and the delay of the onset of this unpredictable disease. Attempts at developing vaccinations against the disease have not succeeded to date, as the vaccines are toxic and produce harmful side effects. Work is being done on producing radioactive techniques to screen for the amyloid beta protein with non-toxic and inexpensive procedures. The anticipated result will be that screening the entire population will be more cost-effective than treating the disease afterwards.

Hopefully, the worldwide efforts in delaying and eventually combatting this degenerative disease will prove successful within the next ten years. What can your average senior citizen do in the meanwhile to stay on top of this progression? Dr. Okun suggests two beneficial strategies. “Physical exercise and environmental enrichment can at least defer the symptoms of the disease. Physical exercise promotes the formation of new neurons in the brain. This will keep the synapses from decreasing, which is one of the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Physical exercise can be as simple as yoga and other balancing movements, and not necessarily strenuous whole-body movements.”

Dr. Okun strongly encourages seniors to fill their days with stimulating environments. “Always try to be in a learning environment. This will engage your brain in absorbing information through many channels, which will increase the connections through the dendritic spines which connect the neurons. These strong connections will keep you alert and on target.”

During the Q&A, Dr. Okun was asked whether any particular diet was preferable in delaying the onset of neurological impairment. He replied that “Mediterranean diets rich in fish and olive oil can be helpful.”

The good news is that major research centers throughout the world are working ceaselessly to help identify, diagnose and hopefully eliminate the heartbreaking neurological diseases which affect both the patients and their families so painfully. We are excited that BIU and its expert team of young researchers, including Dr. Eitan Okun, are on the job!

By Pearl Markovitz

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