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Sonoma County Gazette
Brain scan

North Bay Neuroscience Institute announces 'Swab Day'

Jun 26, 2019


As we get older, we’re all afraid of getting Alzheimer’s Disease. And it’s true, 40 percent of people living in the U.S. will develop it by the time they die. Instead of worrying, however, there is something you can do.

If you’re between the ages of 60 and 75, you can get a free cheek swab that will tell you if you have an increased genetic risk for the disease.

If you do, there are lifestyle changes that may delay the onset of symptoms of the disease and there are promising new trials of drugs that could also be effective.

If you don’t have the troublesome gene, you will know that too.

Even if you carry the worst variation of the gene, there is only a 30 percent to 55 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s by age 85.

“It’s not as scary as 'oh, my god, I’m doomed,'” said  Allan Bernstein M.D., the neurologist who is hosting the “Swab Day.” Bernstein is the former Chief of Neurology at Kaiser Santa Rosa and a long-time researcher on memory loss. He is now Medical Director of  North Bay Neuroscience Institute in Sebastopol where the testing will take place.

“I’d like people to know there are risk factors they can control,” Bernstein said.

“Keep your blood pressure under really good control. Treat your A-fib. Stroke is a major precipitator of Alzheimer’s. A low-carb diet and exercise – just walking in nature -- may give you extra years of symptom-free time,” Bernstein said.

Lifestyle makes a difference, he said. “It can lower your risk by 30 percent to 40 percent or move the curve, so you get symptoms at age 90 instead of 80.”

It’s a matter of improving your cognitive reserves by keeping your mind active, Bernstein said. “Things like reading, talking to people, studying music, and lifelong learning stimulate the brain to make more connections. The brain may get smaller but it gets more dense.”

If you don’t carry the higher risk Alzheimer’s gene, you still might want to take up this lifestyle. More than half the people who get Alzheimer’s don’t carry the gene, Bernstein said. It’s not known what causes Alzheimer’s in the non-genetic cases, although head injuries, gum disease and chronic inflammation can be factors.

The North Bay Neuroscience Institute is holding its first ever “swab day” on July 31. Drop in anytime between 12 noon and 7 p.m. The swab only takes a few minutes and Dr. Bernstein will call you when the lab comes back with the results.

The Institute is located at  7064 Corline Court, Suite A (right behind El Coronel Restaurant).

To learn more about the brain and memory, attend a free presentation by Dr. Bernstein at Sonoma State University, Person Theater, on Tuesday, July 23 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: “The Biology of Memory: What Makes It Work and What Can Go Wrong?" Admission is free, but preregistration is recommended. Go to

For more information, call the North Bay Neuroscience Institute at 707 827-3593.


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