Can Mind, Body Workouts Hold Off Memory Loss?

ByABC News
August 20, 2005, 4:20 PM

Aug. 20, 2005 — -- As scientists left the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington this weekend, they took with them the hopeful news that researchers may be on the verge of finding a way to treat memory loss.

The conclusion by researchers nationwide was that the mind and body are linked. Therefore, people who engage themselves mentally and take care of their bodies physically can stop or even reverse memory loss.

"These are very important findings," said APA president Ronald Levant. "Memory loss is an emerging problem because of the baby boom generation."

The leading edge of that huge generation is turning 59 this year. The number of Alzheimer's cases will increase with the aging of that generation -- tripling from 4.5 million in 2000 to 13.2 million by 2040, according to the American Medical Association -- unless a way is discovered to prevent the disease.

That, however, is a long way off. What isn't is the success people like Michele Rubin, 46, have experienced with programs to stimulate the brain and to take better care of the body.

Rubin, a mother of three who lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., began noticing several years ago that she could not remember names when she saw a face, or remember who appeared in a movie.

"My husband would say, 'I told you something,' and it would not even ring a bell," she said.

While such things are common complaints among people approaching middle age, they create worries about something more devastating than forgetfulness.

"We all have to worry about Alzheimer's and dementia as we age," said Rubin.

She joined a program run by Dr. Gary Small, a psychiatrist who has directed research in aging at UCLA for 25 years.

"We're convinced," says Small, "that it is going to be much easier to protect a healthy brain rather than try to repair a brain once damage has set in."

Rubin took part in his program that combines simple mental exercise, which Small calls "mental aerobics," with lifestyle changes.