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"Pick your parents or die young"--the Unclear Path to Preventing Alzheimer's

Smanatha Ing
Auriel Willette studies the link between nutrition and Alzheimer's disease.

The Alzheimer's Association International Conference was held last month in Washington, D.C. And though there were some glimmers of hope for new treatments, results as a whole were mixed. Dr. Hyungsub Shim, Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, attended the conference. He says that, considering they've gone 13 years without a new medicine, even mixed results can be encouraging.

"We have found, if you dig through all those negative trials, little bits and pieces of hope, that maybe there is some effect there, that maybe it's slowing down some of the progression," Shim says. "Not to the point where any of these things in and of themselves would be useful treatments, the way they're being looked at now; but maybe if we use them earlier in the disease course, or find other ways to use them, avoiding other side effects, we can have more of an impact on this disease."

As it stands, there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to Alzheimer's, particularly in preventing the disease.

"Right now what we know how to do is lessen the effects of the disease," Shim says. "The only way we really know to prevent the disease is if you could pick your parents and know you don't have a family history of it; or die young, which obviously is not a preferable option for most people."

In this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Shim about research. Auriel Willette, research scientist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University, also joins the conversation.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River