Q: My 84-year-old mother is being treated for breast cancer. Our family has a history of Alzheimer's disease as well. It will be so difficult if she develops this disease in addition to her other health problems. What will we do?
A: Don't assume that just because others in her family developed this disease that your mother will too.
And as far as the cancer goes, some related findings may interest you.
Most kinds of cancer are associated with a significantly decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study of 3.5 million veterans reported at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2013 in Boston.
This study also suggested that chemotherapy treatment for almost all of those cancers conferred an additional decrease in Alzheimer's risk.
Laura Frain, M.D., a geriatrician at VA Boston Healthcare System, and colleagues analyzed the health records of veterans 65 and older who were seen in the VA health care system between 1996 and 2011 and who were free of dementia at the time.
The researchers found that most types of cancer were associated with reduced Alzheimer's risk, ranging from 9 to 51 percent.
Reduced risk was greatest among survivors of liver cancer (51 percent lower risk), cancer of the pancreas (44 percent), cancer of the esophagus (33 percent), myeloma (26 percent), lung cancer (25 percent) and leukemia (23 percent).
Cancers that did not confer a reduced Alzheimer's risk, or were associated with an increased risk, included melanoma, prostate and colorectal cancers.
The researchers found no association between cancer history and reduced risk of any other typical age-related health issue.
In fact, cancer was associated with an increased risk of stroke, osteoarthritis, cataracts and macular degeneration.
Most cancer survivors also were at increased risk for non-Alzheimer's dementia.
"Together, these findings indicate that the protective relationship between most cancers and Alzheimer's disease is not simply explained by increased mortality among cancer patients," Frain said. "More research is needed to determine if these results have therapeutic implications for Alzheimer's."
At the least, it sounds as though your mother could need a little extra help at home.
Why not check with your local Home Instead Senior Care office to discover the wide range of services that would be available to your mom - from assistance with meal preparation and light housekeeping to medication reminders.
For more about this study,visit www.veteransresources.org/2013/07/cancer-and-chemotherapy-linked-with-decreased-risk-of-alzheimers-disease-in-veterans/.
For more information about Home Instead Senior Care, contact DeLauter at 866-522-6533 or visit www.homeinstead.com.
DeLauter is the owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Lewisburg, which serves Union, Snyder, Northumberland, Lycoming, Clinton, Montour and Columbia counties.