Galantamine—Memory MoleculeGalantamine Helps Keep
Your Mind on the Money
Memory and cognitive impairment can be costly in more ways than one
By Will Block
oodbye . . . When money talks, that seems to be its favorite word. For most of us, money is “hard come, easy go,” and even if it doesn’t necessarily bring happiness, it sure can stave off a lot of unhappiness. Everyone loves money, even if the love of money is the root of all evil. It’s all a matter of keeping money in proper perspective—putting it in its place, so to speak.
No one in his right mind wants to lose or waste money, although many people certainly do, for lack of foresight, planning, and discipline—you know, those annoying attributes that get in the way of having a good time. “Let’s party!” too often takes precedence over “Let’s be prudent, shall we?” It takes motivation to be prudent, and if anything should motivate you, it’s your health, which should be preserved and protected above all. Remember the saying, “As long as you’ve got your health, everything else will be OK”? How often we’ve heard words to that effect without really giving them a thought, simply because we had our health and took it for granted, just as a child does.
Mild Cognitive Impairment Usually Begets Alzheimer’s
But we are no longer children, and for each of us, sooner or later, there will come a time of reckoning. It may come crashing down like a thunderbolt, as with a heart attack or stroke, or it may creep up on us so slowly and subtly that we won’t know it for years. Cancer can do that, and so can diabetes, but perhaps the most insidious of all is Alzheimer’s disease, the cold, gray cloud of dementia that envelops and eventually smothers its victims’ minds.
If there’s even a sliver of silver in the lining of that cloud, it is that Alzheimer’s disease has a kind of early warning system, albeit a subtle and dangerous one that is often overlooked: the disease is often preceded by a less severe condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which doesn’t necessarily lead to Alzheimer’s, but usually does.* By one estimate, more than 80% of patients with MCI develop Alzheimer’s within ten years, at a rate of about 10–15% of patients per year. This has led some experts to regard MCI as, for all practical purposes, “early Alzheimer’s disease” rather than a distinct condition.
“Normal Aging” Can Lead to MCI, but Usually Doesn’t
With MCI, you’re still in your right mind, only it isn’t quite as “right” as it used to be. You’re functional, but, um, you do often have a hard time remembering . . . uh . . . things. And MCI is itself generally preceded by a condition that is less severe still. Actually, it’s entirely benign—unless it progresses to MCI, which it usually does not. For want of a better term, it’s called “normal aging.” That’s where you’re considered to be cognitively healthy, for your age (and don’t you hate it when people say that?), but you’ve become just a bit scattered. Perhaps you sometimes forget where you put your car keys—big deal. Or perhaps you forget the rules to a game that your grandchildren keep wanting you to play with them, causing their parents to smile indulgently and wink at each other behind your back.
If there’s even a sliver of silver in
the lining of the Alzheimer’s cloud,
it is that the disease has a kind of
early warning system, albeit a
subtle and dangerous one: MCI.
If you’re lucky—correction: if you’ve taken prudent measures to preserve and protect your mental health and you have your fair share of luck as well—normal aging is all you’ll ever have to cope with. As they say in Australia, “No worries, mate.” You’ll be fine, and your kids’ smiles and winks will never have to graduate to a concerned “Uh-oh” (MCI), let alone a panicked “Oh, my God” (Alzheimer’s). Of course, if you’re not so prudent and lucky . . . .
Financial Capability Could Be a Leading Indicator
Which brings us back to money. With significant memory impairment, not only is your brain gradually robbed of its greatest treasures—your memories—but your wallet can be looted as well. And you are the likely culprit. Try explaining to your kids that their inheritance went down the tubes of some financial blunder you can’t even remember making, because you weren’t in your right mind.
Researchers at the University of Alabama recently evaluated the financial capabilities of elderly people with mild cognitive impairment—not to see how much money they might lose in the conduct of their financial affairs, but because the researchers were seeking a reasonably reliable method of testing the extent of a patient’s cognitive impairment.
By one estimate, more than 80%
of patients with MCI develop
Alzheimer’s within ten years,
at a rate of about 10–15% of
patients per year.
MCI is defined as entailing significant memory impairment, but without significant degradation of other cognitive functions or of the ability to perform the more mundane activities of daily living (ADL), such as bathing, dressing, and cooking. Financial matters represent a higher order of ADL, and, being of a precise nature, they could be a sensitive indicator of the transition from mild cognitive impairment to mild Alzheimer’s disease, when serious degradations in cognitive abilities and ADL become manifest.
Cognitive Impairment Spells Financial Trouble
What the researchers sought was to determine how well the ability to handle simple financial matters would correlate with the cognitive abilities of elderly people in three categories that can be defined distinctly but that, in real life, blend seamlessly from one to the next: (1) cognitively healthy people (i.e., those with normal cognitive aging, but no more); (2) people with clinically diagnosed mild cognitive impairment; and (3) people with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Because MCI represents the middle ground between health and Alzheimer’s, it’s desirable to be able to see how close to either end of its range a given MCI patient stands. This is difficult to do, but testing for financial capability may help refine the process.
The 20 standardized tests fall under nine categories: basic monetary skills, financial conceptual knowledge, cash transactions, checkbook management, bank-statement management, financial judgment (detection of fraud), bill payment, knowledge of personal assets/estate arrangements, and investment decision making. The researchers administered these tests to 64 adults in the three cognitive categories mentioned above. The groups were well matched in terms of age (average 69), gender, race, education, and socioeconomic status. For each test, the abilities of the subjects were rated in one of three categories: (1) could do the task without help; (2) could do the task but needed help; and (3) could not do the task even with help.
The cognitively healthy subjects (normal cognitive aging) did very well on the tests (almost no help needed); those with MCI had significant problems (overall, one-third needed help, and the rest did well); and those with mild Alzheimer’s disease did very poorly (one-quarter needed help, and half could not do the tasks even with help).
Understanding Does Not Equal Practical Ability
These results should surprise no one, but the objective was to verify the trends scientifically and to be able to use the wealth of detailed correlations gleaned from the study to provide more accurate diagnosis of the extent of MCI in an individual case—and perhaps a prognosis regarding the likelihood of its progressing to Alzheimer’s disease.
In the MCI patients, there was an
apparent disconnect between their
understanding of various financial
concepts and their ability to put that
understanding to practical use by
making sound decisions.
An interesting aspect of the MCI patients’ performance in this study was the apparent disconnect, in some categories of tests, between their understanding of various financial concepts and their ability to put that understanding to practical use by making sound decisions. The researchers noted that future studies should investigate whether the extent to which such disconnects occur could itself be used as a means of tracking the progress of MCI toward its terrible—but not necessarily inevitable—consequence, Alzheimer’s disease.
Secure Your Future
What we can learn from this study, meanwhile, is that losing a few of our marbles to MCI could mean losing money as well, if it impaired our ability to handle that money wisely—as it clearly can.* Of major concern is the susceptibility to financial fraud, a plague that victimizes great numbers of the elderly every year, often wiping out their life’s savings. Think it couldn’t happen to you? That’s probably what they thought too, yet look what happened. Do not let it happen to you! Do whatever you can to prevent it (see the sidebar) so that you—and your heirs—can enjoy a secure and happy future.
Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease!
What do we have to remember that’s so important besides where our money is? The name of a friend, our kids’ birthdays, how to roast a turkey, where we live, who’s the president, . . . No problem, you say? But for those with Alzheimer’s disease, these things quietly slip away, one by one, like phantoms in the night. Eventually there is but an empty shell of a person left, no longer able to get through the day without constant help—no longer, perhaps, even able to remember that he once was the president.
“Tragic” hardly does justice to this terrible affliction. If you are the victim, the hearts of those who love you are torn out, bit by bit, day by day, for as long as you live; meanwhile, your own love for them fades away, as you gradually forget who they are. But you, dear reader, will not be such a victim, because you are reading this magazine and know that there are things you can do to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There are no guarantees, but you can improve your chances.
You already know that one of the most important things to do is to stay active, physically and mentally—“use it or lose it.” Being a couch potato in body or mind—especially if you’re overweight or obese—is an invitation to so many ills of body and mind that it’s just not worth it.*
It is also wise to supplement with natural products, notably galantamine, that are known or believed to be helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and that may be beneficial against mild cognitive impairment as well. Galantamine has been the subject of many articles in this magazine and will be the subject of more to come. Educate yourself, and take action.
- Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as reported by Reuters Health, March 14, 2001.
- Griffith HR, Belue K, Sicola A, Krzywanski S, Zamrini E, Harrell L, Marson DC. Impaired financial abilities in mild cognitive impairment. Neurology 2003;60:449-57.
Galantamine provides a heralded dual-mode action for boosting cholinergic function: it inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, thereby boosting brain levels of acetylcholine, and it modulates the brain's nicotinic receptors so as to maintain their function. The recommended daily serving ranges from a low of 4 to 8 mg of galantamine to begin with to a maximum of 24 mg, depending on the individual's response.
For an added measure of benefit, it is a good idea to take choline, the precursor molecule to acetylcholine, as well as pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), an important cofactor for choline. Thus it is possible to cover all bases in providing the means to enhance the levels and effectiveness of your acetylcholine.
Will Block is the publisher and editorial director of Life Enhancement magazine.