UCLA Alzheimer’s expert to discuss latest research at Handmaker ‘Mind Games’ event

Gary Small, M.D.

Who knew that physical exercise may have a greater impact on the brain than so-called mind exercises? Dr. Gary Small, author of “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program,” will discuss the latest scientific evidence on the aging brain in his presentation, “Mind Games,” Thursday, April 26 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Handmaker Services for the Aging.

The event will include hors d’oeuvres, wine, coffee/dessert, and the screening of a short video on

the previously announced Handmaker/Tucson Medical Center partnership. The mission of the collaboration is “to build a gero-psych facility on our existing campus,” says Howard H. Paley, chief development officer of the Handmaker Foundation (see azjewish post.com/2011/ handmaker-tmc-to-build-4-5-million-dementia-care-center/). Also included will be the formal dedication of Handmaker’s grand foyer, honoring Deanna and the late Harvey Evenchik.

Is it possible to delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? Small has been studying the major factors in acquiring such diseases, both genetic and non-genetic, for 30 years. He and his colleagues at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine invented and hold the patent for the first brain scan device able to view the progress of Alzheimer’s.

Small is a professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior. He’s a graduate of Harvard Medical School and completed a residency in general psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital before beginning the fellowship in geriatric medicine that would direct his career. “It was serendipity,” he told the AJP.

In Tucson, Small will focus on the roles of physical exercise, stress management, diet and mental exercises in the prevention

of Alzheimer’s. “Learning memory techniques can ward off cognitive decline,” he notes.

When people in their 50s show signs of Alz­heimer’s it may actually be caused by a genetic mutation, which exists “in a small percentage of families, 500 to 600 in the world,” says Small. “About 5 percent of their relatives get the disease.”

Small and his colleagues are discovering that chronic low-grade inflammation in the brain may be a precursor for Alzheimer’s. Ongoing research has shown that “the human brain is malleable, always changing in response to the environment … The good news,” he says, “is that the flexible brain is eminently trainable.”

As reported in “Research Shows that Internet is Rewiring our Brains” (today.ucla.edu, March 30), a recent UCLA study assessed the effect of Internet searching on brain activity among volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76. Small, who is quoted in the article, notes that “a simple, everyday task like searching the Web appears to enhance brain circuitry in older adults, demonstrating that our brains are sensitive and can continue to learn as we grow older.”

His most recent book is “‘Brain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind.” Small has written six other books, including, with his wife, Gigi Vorgan, “The Memory Bible,” a New York Times best seller.

“With all the Baby Boomers, we’re all at risk and want to know what to do” to help brain functioning through aging,” says Small. “It’s been a wonderful journey. I’ve been able to help people.”

Admission to the event and author’s reception, which will include a signed copy of “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program” or “The Memory Bible,” is $36. Handmaker is located at 2221 N. Rosemont Blvd. RSVP by April 20 at 322-3632 or handmakerfoundation.org/Special_Event.html.