Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes a gradual decline in memory, language skills, and, eventually, the ability to care for oneself. It strikes millions of people around the world. It is the most common form of dementia in people over 65 years old.
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Researchers don't know what causes Alzheimer's in most people, and there is no cure for the disease. Hospitals and laboratories are doing research to find ways to treat and prevent Alzheimer's. Now a church in the United States has a program to help fight the disease.
At the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, North Carolina, older members are singing and playing instruments to stimulate their minds to keep the disease at bay. This may also help delay or limit the symptoms of Alzheimer's.
Some parishioners are learning Spanish to keep their minds active. Others, like 72-year-old Fredrick Hill have learned to ride a horse. "Every chance I get, I come out here," Hill said.
Not only does he feel better physically, but he says his memory is better. "It does help," Hill explained. "It keeps the mind working."
A small percentage of Americans have gene mutations that cause the disease. Among them is Minister James Brown. "I know that I have the gene. I can't change the gene," Brown said. "So I work twice as hard in other areas to combat it."
He began the church program after his mother died. He says she was so far gone from Alzheimer's that she would water plastic flowers and put mail in the refrigerator.
'Every time I look at my children, I know that we've got to find a cure before they're affected. I'm doing it for me, but I'm also doing it for those that will come after me," Brown stated.
Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina are also trying to combat Alzheimer's and are working closely with older people at the church. Doctors test them for memory skills by asking, for example, what day it is.
The researchers say the church program appears to be working. But they say they will know more in five years, when they have more proof about whether they've put Alzheimer's on hold.
"We've noticed that people seem to be more spry and engaged and happy," said Kathleen Welsh-Bohmer of Duke University.
Researchers believe the program is already so successful that it should be repeated in other churches.