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Archive for the ‘Alzheimer's/Dementia Research/Findings’ Category

One or two alcoholic beverages a day may reduce an elderly person’s risk of developing dementia by almost 40 percent, a study presented at the recent International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Vienna found.

The results show people aged 75 years and older reap the same benefits from alcohol as their middle-
aged counterparts, the researchers said. They asked more than 3,000 adults how often they drank and examined them every six months for up to six years for signs of memory loss or mental decline.

The findings aren’t a free pass for drinking among the elderly, the results showed. People who were already showing signs of memory problems deteriorated significantly faster if they drank alcohol, and the more they consumed the worse the symptoms became. Heavy drinkers, defined as those consuming more than 14 drinks a week, were almost twice as likely to develop dementia, researchers said.

“If you’re already drinking, you don’t need to cut back if you’re cognitively healthy, but we don’t have enough information to recommend you start drinking,” Kaycee Sink, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said during a press conference. “The benefits increase as people move from mild to moderate levels of drinking, and then start to decline.”

Range of Benefits

Alcohol has a range of benefits, such as boosting good cholesterol, preventing blood platelets from clotting and prompting the production of chemicals that help memory, Sink said. When older people show signs of dementia, the benefits may be outweighed by the toxic effects of drinking, she said, emphasizing that the theory is unproven. Heavy drinking is associated with a range of problems, including smaller brain volumes and vitamin deficiencies, she said.

The study divided the group into four categories: those who abstained, light drinkers who had one to seven beverages a week, moderate drinkers at eight to 14 weekly drinks and heavy consumers who had more than 14 every week.

The participants had an average age of almost 80 years and most, 43 percent, didn’t drink at all. One-third took a drink a few times a week, while the rest were moderate or heavy drinkers.

The moderate drinkers were most likely to benefit from their alcohol habits, with the risk of developing dementia lowered by 37 percent, according to the study.

“It’s a nuanced message, and we need to take some care with that, especially given the large number of people with mild cognitive impairment that remain undiagnosed,” William Thies, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, said in an interview. “Still, people are comforted by the fact that a drink or two a day is ok.”

(Source: Bloomberg, July 13, 2009)

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New tests assessing brain changes and body chemistry are showing promise at diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages, aiding the search for new drugs, Researchers said at the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease (ICAD).

In one study, Irish Researchers found scans measuring brain volume and a combination of memory tests accurately identified nearly 95 percent of people who had progressed from mild cognitive impairment to early Alzheimer’s disease.

In another study, U.S. Researchers found that a type of brain scan that measures glucose combined with low scores on memory tests was a strong predictor of disease progression.

The findings, presented at an Alzheimer’s Association meeting in Vienna, Austria, are some of the first from a five-year, $60 million study aimed at identifying brain changes that signal the advance of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The idea is if there could be biological markers identified that tracked what was going on in the brain, this would give you a better idea of whether a drug was having a biological effect,” Neil Buckholtz, who heads the U.S. National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, or ADNI, said in a telephone interview.

The study, which is funded with U.S. government and industry funds, involves more than 800 people looking at brain structure and biological changes such as in spinal fluids that could signal disease progression.

Despite decades of research, doctors still have few effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, a mind-robbing form of dementia that affects more than 26 million people globally and is expected to reach 100 million by 2050.

CHEAPER TRIALS

Only an autopsy revealing the disease’s hallmark plaques and tangles in the brain can offer a definitive Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Short of that, Doctors use Neurological and Memory Tests. Because they are subjective, drug companies must run large, costly trials to show their drugs work.

“Biomarkers may lead to cheaper trials,” Buckholtz said.

In the Irish study, Michael Ewers of Trinity College Dublin and colleagues studied 345 participants in the ADNI study with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s.

They looked at an array of tests and found three memory tests plus MRI measurements of brain volume in the left hippocampus – a region closely linked to memory – were most predictive of disease progression.

In a separate study, Susan Landau of the University of California, Berkeley used data on 85 patients and found positron emission tomography scans that measure glucose in the brain and poor memory recall were strong predictors. People who did poorly on these measures were 15 times more likely to progress to Alzheimer’s within two years.

Buckholtz expects many more studies to come from the ADNI study. “The idea is we are trying to define the best biomarkers or combination of biomarkers that will allow us to assess progress,” he said.

In another study presented at the meeting, a Team at Duke University in North Carolina led by Dr. Allen Roses found that a gene called TOMM40 raises Alzheimer’s risk.

The gene predicted the age of Alzheimer’s development within a five- to seven-year window in people over 60. It is closely linked to another Alzheimer’s gene called ApoE4.

“It now looks fairly clear that there are two major genes — APOE4 and TOMM40 – and together they account an estimated 85-90 percent of the genetic effect,” Roses said.

(Source: Reuters, July 14, 2009)

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A gene that may offer a highly accurate prediction of the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and the age at which people will begin to show symptoms has been identified by U.S. researchers.

The TOMM40 gene may be the most highly predictive Alzheimer’s gene discovered so far, said the Duke University Medical Center Rsearch Team, who found that the gene could predict the age of Alzheimer’s disease onset within a five- to seven-year window among people over 60.

The study was scheduled to be presented on July 12 at the Alzheimer’s Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, held in Vienna, Austria.

“If borne out through additional research, a doctor could evaluate a patient based on age, especially among those over age 60, their APOE genotype and their TOMM40 status, to calculate an estimated disease risk and age of onset,” Lead Author Dr. Allen Roses, Director of the Deane Drug Discovery Institute at Duke, said in a university news release.

In previous research, Roses found that apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotypes, particularly APOE4, are associated with increased risk and younger age of development of Alzheimer’s disease. APOE4 accounts for about 50 percent of late-onset cases of Alzheimer’s, but the cause of the remainder of cases hasn’t been known.

“It now looks fairly clear that there are two major genes — APOE4 and TOMM40 — and together they account for an estimated 85 to 90 percent of the genetic effect,” Roses said.

The Duke team is planning a five-year study of APOE genotypes and TOMM40, along with a drug trial to assess prevention or delay of Alzheimer’s disease onset.

(Source: HealthDay News, July 12, 2009)

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People with superior language skills early in life may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease decades later, research suggests.

A Team from Johns Hopkins University studied the brains of 38 Catholic nuns after death.

They found those with good language skills early in life were less likely to have memory problems – even if their brains showed signs of dementia damage.

The study appears online in the Journal Neurology.

Dementia is linked to the formation of protein plaques and nerve cell tangles in the brain.

But scientists remain puzzled about why these signs of damage produce dementia symptoms in some people, but not others.

The Researchers focused on nuns who were part of an ongoing clinical study.

They divided the women into those with memory problems and signs of dementia damage in the brain, and those whose memory was unaffected regardless of whether or not they showed signs of dementia damage.

And they also analysed essays that 14 of the women wrote as they entered the convent in their late teens or early 20s, assessing them for complexity of language and grammar.

The study showed that language scores were 20% higher in women without memory problems than those with signs of a malfunctioning memory.

The grammar score did not show any difference between the two groups.

Lead Researcher Dr Juan Troncoso said: “Despite the small number of participants in this portion of the study, the finding is a fascinating one.”

“Our results show that an intellectual ability test in the early 20s may predict the likelihood of remaining cognitively normal five or six decades later, even in the presence of a large amount of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.”

Brain Cell Growth

The study also found that brain cells were largest in women who retained a normal memory despite showing signs of disease in their brains.

The Researchers said this suggested that a growth in brain cells might be part of the body’s early response to the onset of dementia, and this might help to prevent memory impairment.

Dr Troncoso said: “Perhaps mental abilities at age 20 are indicative of a brain that will be better able to cope with diseases later in life.”

Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It is interesting that the nuns in the study with better language skills in their youth avoided memory problems in later life.”

“However, the research is in a very small, select group and it would be difficult to say at this stage if language skills could really predict dementia.”

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “One possible implication of this study is that an intellectual ability test in the early 20s may predict the likelihood of remaining cognitively normal five or six decades later.

“However, prominent exceptions exist, including Authors like Terry Pratchett and Iris Murdoch, who developed dementia despite their linguistic brilliance.”

(Source: BBC News, July 8, 2009)

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People who have a particular gene flaw and live alone in middle-age are at highest risk of developing dementia, Researchers suggest.

The risk affects those who split up or were widowed from their long-term partner before the age of 50, Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found.

Researchers say the APOE variant 4 is the most important genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

However, UK experts said there are many ways of reducing dementia risk.

As the world’s population ages, dementia is a growing concern.

In 2005 around 25m people had dementia, but the number is expected to be around 81m by 2040.

The Researchers studied 2,000 men and women from eastern Finland aged around 50 and again 21 years later.

They looked at their marital status and also carried out genetic tests to see if they carried the gene APOE variant 4.

People living alone in middle-age had twice the risk of dementia than those who were living with a partner.

But widows and widowers had three times the risk of dementia.

And those with the APOE gene variant who had lost their partners and remained living alone had the highest risk of all of developing Alzheimer’s.

Support Needed

The team, led by Dr Krister Hakannson, said the results were important for preventing dementia and cognitive impairment.

They also said “supportive intervention” could be helpful for people who had lost a partner.

Writing in the British Medical Journal online, they said: “Living in a relationship with a partner might imply cognitive and social challenges that have a protective effect against cognitive impairment in later life.”

They said the link with the APOE gene variant had to be replicated in other studies, but that it was in line with previous research findings.

In an editorial, also published online by the BMJ, Dr Catherine Helmer of the Universite Victor Seglen in Bordeaux, said: “One possibility is that the age and conditions of widowhood are crucial factors.

“Being widowed late in life, as were most of the people in previous studies, is perhaps less stressful – especially as the person is widowed for a shorter duration – and might thus not be a risk factor.

“Nevertheless, the hypothesis of a deleterious biological effect of widowhood remains to be proved, as does the possibility of genetic vulnerability as a link between widowhood and dementia.”

But she said the link with the APOE variant should be treated “with caution”, because this was an epidemiological study which looked at disease incidence in a population, and needed to be confirmed in further studies.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research for the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Inheriting the APOE gene is only one of many factors that can affect your overall risk of developing Alzheimer’s.”

She added: “Evidence suggests that remaining socially active may reduce your risk of dementia and living with someone is certainly a good way of doing this.

However, single people shouldn’t worry – there are many other ways to reduce your risk of dementia.

The best evidence is around eating a Mediterranean diet, exercising regularly, and getting your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “In societies where divorce and separation are growing trends, we need to examine how we help people adjust to living alone.”

Those who are widowed are at a much higher risk, and interventions soon after their loss may have a significant preventive effect.

(Source: Story from BBC News at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/8130255.stm)

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Treatment with a cholesterol-lowering drug might protect against Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

Scientists have long known that nerve cells in people with Alzheimer’s die prematurely because they are strongly overstimulated, a process called excitotoxicity.

Theorizing that the cholesterol drug lovastatin might ward off cell death, researchers at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, conducted animal experiments in which they administered lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor) to overstimulated nerve cells. Lovastatin is a first-generation member of a class of drugs, statins, that has revolutionized the treatment of high cholesterol.

Lovastatin did indeed prevent cell death and, just as important, blocked the loss of memory that accompanies excitotoxicity, according to the lead scientist on the project, Amalia Dolga. Earlier, Dolga had shown that statins seem to stimulate the protective capacity of tumor necrosis factor, a key player in the brain’s immune response. In addition, some researchers have speculated that high cholesterol might be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, suggesting that lowering cholesterol could be beneficial.

The findings are in the June Issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The degenerative disease attacks brain cells and ruins memory and thinking.

No cure has been found, but treatments have been shown to improve a person’s quality of life.

(Source: HealthDay, June 30, 2009)

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Going to the ballpark, visiting friends and playing bingo are simple diversions for many of us. But for the elderly, these social pastimes may play a critical role in preserving their physical and mental health.

In fact, a new study suggests that the less time older people spend engaged in social activity, the faster their motor function tends to decline. “Everybody in their 60s, 70s and 80s is walking more slowly than they did when they were 25,” says Dr. Aron Buchman, a neurologist at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and lead author of the study, which was published in the June 22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. “Our study shows the connection between social activity and motor function – and opens up a whole new universe of how we might intervene.”

An increasing body of evidence has suggested that participating in mentally stimulating activity, socializing frequently and exercising may help protect against age-related decline – at least cognitive decline. As early as 1995, neuroscientist Carl Cotman, who studies aging and dementia at the University of California at Irvine, published a paper in Nature showing that physical exercise produces a protein that helps keep neurons from dying and spurs the formation of new neural connections in the brain. More recently, Cotman demonstrated in studies of elderly dogs and mice that enriching their social environment is associated with improvement in brain function.

Researchers are also finding that social activity may be linked to the same protective effect in people. A recent study of 2,500 adults ages 70 to 79, published in the journal Neurology, found that those who were able to stay mentally sharp were also those who exercised once a week or more, had at least a ninth-grade literacy level and were socially active.

But what has social activity got to do with motor skills? In Buchman’s study, which looked at 906 seniors, average age 80, in northeastern Illinois over a five-year period, increased social activity was associated with adeptness in a range of physical tasks, including walking in a straight line, standing one-legged and on tiptoes, turning full circle without falling and placing pegs on a board. On a social-activity scale of 1 to 5 – with 1 indicating participation in various social activities once a year, and 5 showing activity every day or nearly every day – a one-point difference in social activity corresponded to a five-year difference in motor function. With each one-point drop on the social-activity scale, study participants’ rate of physical decline increased 33%. In participants whose score fell one point over the course of a single year, that translated to a 40% increased risk of death and a 65% higher risk of a disability.

“The idea that cognitive and physical function are connected is something that has just come out in the last few years. It is one of the new horizons in health care and prevention,” says neurologist and aging expert Dr. Joe Verghese of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 showing that changes in walking patterns could be an early sign of dementia.

While further research needs to be done to establish the exact impact of social activity and exercise on specific age-related declines – it’s likely that a reduction in social activity may simply be a symptom of physical decline, since people may naturally withdraw from social engagement as they lose motor skills – most researchers would agree that it is not unreasonable to encourage seniors to get out there more. Only 10% of people over 65 get the recommended amount of exercise (at least 2.5 to 5 hours a week), and given that seniors already tend to be more socially isolated than younger adults, it’s difficult to motivate them to become more active. “If you are alone, you are less likely to follow recommendations,” notes Verghese. It might help, though, if you visit with Grandma more often and let her know that a regular pastime may just help her stay fitter and sharper longer.

(Source: Time.com – June 2, 2009)

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