Entries in alzheimer's disease (44)


Research to Prevent Alzheimer’s Will Target Group With Rare Form

File photo. iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A team of researchers will soon try out an experimental drug that could prevent Alzheimer’s disease in a group of people with a genetic mutation that makes it likely they will develop the debilitating condition.

Scientists will begin a clinical trial of crenezumab in about 300 Colombians whose genes predispose them to a rare form of Alzheimer’s that hits very early — usually in the 40s or 50s — and can affect multiple members of the same family.  Funding for the study is provided by the National Institutes of Health, Genentech and Banner Health System.  Genentech is the developer of the experimental drug.

There will also be a subjects with the same mutation recruited in the U.S., but those people still need to be identified.

“Clinical trials will be done at a time when a patient has no symptoms.  We’re trying to stop or slow the onset of the disease in this group of patients,” said Richard Scheller, executive vice president of research and development at Genentech.  “We know when they will contract the disease because of the numerous studies that have been done on the mutation.

The drug acts on a substance known as ABeta.  Scheller explained that ABeta is a major component of the brain plaque that is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The mutation causes a more rapid accumulation of ABeta in the brains of people who have it.  It activates the enzyme that produces the ABeta,” he said.  The clinical trial, he added, will help answer the question of whether ABeta is definitely responsible for this rare form of the disease.

There are also separate clinical trials underway looking at the effects of crenezumab on mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Experts not involved with the crenezumab research thus far say preventing Alzheimer’s from ever happening is more promising than treating it once symptoms start appearing.  Drugs that are available now only target symptoms, not the mechanisms that cause the disease.

The clinical trial is expected to begin in 2013 and continue until 2018.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pumping Iron to Prevent Dementia?

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Resistance training could be an important part of reversing memory decline in elderly women with mild memory problems, according to a study published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada studied 86 women between the ages of 70 and 80 who had mild cognitive impairment, a condition where people have problems with memory or other brain functions that are noticeable but not severe enough to interfere with daily life. Predictably, this group of people is at increased risk of developing dementia. The women were divided into groups that underwent resistance training, aerobic exercise, or balance and tone training twice a week for six months.

The resistance training group had significant improvements in performance on a common test of executive brain functioning called the Stroop Test. They also had improvements in a separate test of associative memory, which refers to the ability of one thought or memory to trigger another. For example, to most humans, the color green means go. Impairment in associative memory is common in early Alzheimer’s dementia.

Using functional MRI studies among the groups, the researchers demonstrate increased blood flow to key areas of the brain that was associated with the improved performance on the cognitive tests. However, unlike in prior studies, there was no benefit of the aerobic training group on cognitive testing, though their cardiovascular performance was improved.

This is the first study that demonstrates the benefits of resistance exercises in those who already suffer from cognitive impairment. And while this is a small study that provides preliminary evidence of benefit, study author Teresa Liu-Ambrose says, “Exercise is attractive as a prevention strategy for dementia as it is universally accessible and cost-effective.”

Worldwide, one case of dementia is detected every seven seconds, and with the aging of baby boomers, those numbers are on the rise.

So is it time to start recommending strength training to the elderly, especially those with cognitive impairment to try and ward off dementia?

Zaven S. Khachaturian, president of the Campaign to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by 2020, finds the research promising, but says more research is needed in larger studies to confirm these findings.

Dr. Richard Caselli, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic, agrees.

“When advising patients, I do inform them that physical activity, exercise, and good fitness generally is healthful,” he says. “We have known that for years as regards to cardiovascular health, so even if we turn out to be wrong about possibly preventing or slowing dementia onset, it is still good medical advice.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Disease: Music Brings Patients 'Back to Life'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Henry Dryer sits slumped over the tray attached to his wheelchair.  He doesn't speak, and rarely moves, until a nursing home worker puts his headphones on.  Then Dryer's feet start to shuffle, his folded arms rock back and forth, and he sings out loud in perfect sync with his favorite songs.

"I feel a band of love, dreams," said Dryer, 92, who has dementia.  "It gives me the feeling of love, romance!"

Henry is one of seven patients profiled in the documentary Alive Inside, a heartwarming look at the power of music to help those in nursing homes.

"There are a million and a half people in nursing homes in this country," director Michael Rossato-Bennett told ABC News.  "When I saw what happened to Henry, whenever you see a human being awaken like that, it touches something deep inside you."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting 5.4 million Americans.  The disease swiftly robs patients of their memories and other brain functions, forcing most to live out their final years in nursing homes.

Rossato-Bennett said he took on the documentary project to promote Music & Memory, a nonprofit organization that brings iPods with personalized music to dementia patients in nursing home care.

"When I end up in a nursing home, I'll want to have my music with me," said Dan Cohen, executive director of Music & Memory.  "There aren't many things in nursing homes that are personally meaningful activities.  Here's the one easy thing that has a significant impact."

Cohen said the personalized playlists, chosen by loved ones, make patients light up.

"They're more alert, more attentive, more cooperative, more engaged," he said.  "Even if they can't recognize loved ones and they've stopped speaking, they hear music and they come alive."

Alive Inside
premieres Wednesday, April 18 at the Rubin Museum in New York City.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


A New Way to Detect Alzheimer’s?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new drug may help doctors give patients suffering from Alzheimer’s-like symptoms some clarity they desperately want: a conclusive diagnosis.

On Friday, the FDA approved Eli Lily’s Amyvid to help doctors determine whether patients have Alzheimer’s disease.

Until now, a definitive Alzheimer’s diagnosis has only been possible after a patient has already died since the only known method of detection involves cutting into the brain and taking samples to look for the presence of a protein called amyloid. Doctors are left to base their diagnoses on symptoms of Alzheimer’s alone.

The new drug acts by binding to amyloid plaques in the brain, allowing them to be captured in a type of imaging test called a PET scan.

“In my opinion this is very big news,” Dr. Michael Weiner, director for the Center of Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of California, San Francisco. “Now for the first time, using this agent, we can identify the amyloid plaques in the brain of living people."

“This allows us to determine who has Alzheimer’s disease in their brain and who does not,” he said.

The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia has doubled in the last few decades; an estimated 5.4 million Americans currently live with the disease. Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and mortality rates are on the rise.

While this new drug may help doctors identify patients who may have Alzheimer’s disease, there is some debate as to how useful the information revealed by the use of the drug will be.

Part of the problem, says Dr. Clifford Saper, chairman of Neurology and Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is that most people older than 80 have some level of amyloid in their brains, and the amount of amyloid present doesn’t necessarily indicate whether the patient has the disease or not.

Plus, he added, practical applications are still a pipe dream, at least for now.

“There is no change in the care of most patients based upon knowing this information, as we have no specific treatment for Alzheimer’s disease,” he says.

The prevalence of amyloid in the brains of many elderly people may also lead to a new flood of positive scans -- which in turn may lead to over-diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

“[Amyvid will] raise false hope and increase costs,” says Dr. Peter Whitehouse, a professor of neurology at Case Western University.

With spending on Alzheimer’s disease already topping $130 billion annually by Medicare and Medicaid alone, the question remains whether government or private insurers will pay for the Amyvid diagnostic test since it comes with a significant price tag.

Nevertheless, while there are currently no treatments shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, there is clinical testing underway now for several potential treatments. Once one becomes available, amyloid imaging could help doctors better select patients for treatment and to monitor effectiveness. In fact, Amyvid is already being used for these purposes in ongoing clinical research.

But until new treatment options become available, Amyvid’s use will likely be limited to helping doctors rule out Alzheimer’s disease in patients with dementia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Five Health Problems Linked to Height

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Height has been linked to a range of health problems, from Alzheimer's and heart disease to multiple cancers.  How stature stacks the odds of getting sick is unclear, but experts say the link between height and health offers new hope for understanding puzzling diseases.

Here are five common conditions linked to height:


A new study suggests taller women have heightened risk for ovarian cancer, a disease that kills nearly 15,000 American women each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  British researchers reviewed data from 47 studies involving more than 100,000 women.  For every 5-centimeter (2-inch) increase in height above the average 5 feet 3, the risk of ovarian cancer rose 7 percent, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine.

In July 2011, a study published in the Lancet Oncology found taller women had an increased risk of 10 different cancers, including breast and skin cancer.  And taller men have an increased risk of prostate cancer, according to a 2008 study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing 616,000 people per year, according to the CDC.  And unlike cancer, it seems to affect shorter people more than their taller counterparts.  A recent review of 52 studies involving more than three million men and women found shorter people have a 50 percent higher risk of having deadly heart disease than tall people.

"It would be interesting to explore the possibility that short stature is connected with the risk of [coronary heart disease] and [heart attack] through the effect of smaller coronary artery diameter, and that smaller coronary arteries may be occluded earlier in life under similar risk conditions," the authors wrote in their 2010 report published in the European Heart Journal.


Like heart disease, serious strokes are also more common among shorter people.  An Israeli study of more than 10,000 men, 364 of whom died from stroke, linked each 5-centimeter (2-inch) increase in height with a 13 percent increase in fatal stroke risk.  Men who were in the shortest quartile had a 54 percent higher risk of fatal stroke than men in the tallest quartile, according to the 2002 study published in the journal Stroke.

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in older people, affecting 5.4 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer's Association.  The risk increases with age and a family history of Alzheimer's, highlighting the disease's genetic roots.  And according to a 2007 study, the risk is also higher for shorter people.

The study, which compared 239 Alzheimer's patients with 341 healthy controls, found men who were taller than 5 feet 10 inches had a 59 percent lower risk of developing the disease than men who were shorter than 5 feet 6 inches.  The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


While type 2 diabetes is linked to weight, type 1 diabetes -- also called juvenile diabetes -- may be linked to height.

"Taller children generally seem to experience increased risk for development of diabetes mellitus type 1, except perhaps during infancy or early adolescence," according to a 2002 study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but it's thought result from an autoimmune attack on the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.  Although it can occur at any age, it's usually diagnosed in children, teens or young adults.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How to Memorize a Deck of Cards … and Other Brain-Training Tricks

Digital Vision/ThinkstockBy ABC News' Bill Weir

(NEW YORK) -- They say dogs have a short-term memory of about 20 seconds. Honestly? Mine is worse.

Beyond the missing keys and repeated calls to directory assistance, that fact became even more evident when a recent office guest challenged me to memorize the order of five playing cards.

Casino owners can relax because I couldn’t get past two.

But then my guest -- who happens to be the reigning National Memory Champion -- gave me a lesson that changed my life.

Like most of the world’s mental athletes, Nelson Dellis was born with a very average memory. But after his grandmother began suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s, the 28-year-old began looking for the kind of mental exercises that help stave off the excruciating disease. This is when he stumbled into the technique that has been used since Cicero gave day-long speeches before the ancient Roman senate. And after just a few years of daily practice, Nelson has trained his brain to memorize an entire deck of cards in 63 seconds or a string of more than 200 random numbers in less than five minutes.

Since this method involves picturing famous people naked wandering the halls of your high school, it is a hell of a lot more fun than repeating numbers ad nauseum. And if you watch the video, you’ll see how fast you can retrain your brain.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obesity Might Lower Cognitive Function in Older Adults, Study Finds

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Older adults with a high body mass index (BMI) and big bellies are more likely to have lower cognitive function than those with a lower BMI, new research suggests.

The study, published in the journal Age and Aging, included 250 people older than 59 who underwent a variety of weight measurement, scans and cognitive performance tests.  People between 60 and 70 with the highest BMIs were linked to the lowest cognitive function.

The Korean study showed a particular association between visceral fat, or fat around the torso, and poor mental performance.

“Aging is characterized by lean body mass loss and adipose tissue increase without weight gain, which may not be captured by BMI, and traditional adiposity measures like BMI are less useful in elderly persons,” said Dr. Dae Hyun Yoon, associate professor of psychiatry at Seoul National University Hospital.

Study results changed in adults older than 70, and the high BMI and large weight circumferences were not associated with cognitive decline.

“A higher BMI is related to lower dementia risk in the oldest old.  It is possible that persons with low BMI lost their weight because of premorbid dementia,” Yoon said.  “It is also possible that a low BMI is the consequence of hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels), which precedes weight loss and is related to higher dementia risk.”

Dr. Ken Fujioka, director of the Center for Weight Management at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, said the results make sense and are on par with what he sees clinically.

“As patients gain central obesity -- that is the key -- they increase their level of inflammatory agents and atherosclerotic agents that will wreck havoc on the brain,” Fujioka said.

While it is unclear whether the participants in the study went on to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, past research has shown that excess fat might play a role in a person’s cognitive decline.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Drugs May Do More Harm Than Good, Study Finds

HANS-ULRICH OSTERWALDER/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- In clinical tests, BACE1 inhibitors have shown great promise in helping to slow down the effects of Alzheimer's disease.  But a new study out of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is flashing yellow warning lights about these drugs, contending that they may possibly wind up making Alzheimer's patients worse.

Study researcher Robert Vassar says that the intent of BACE1 inhibitors is to stop the development of protein plaques in the brain that scientists believe is a leading cause of Alzheimer's, which is expected to afflict millions more over the next several decades as the American population ages.

In his study, Vassar, a professor of cell and molecular biology, says that experiments on mice have shown that BACE1 inhibitors throw a monkey wrench in the brain's wiring and can prevent the formation of new memories.

He says that companies developing the drugs -- which are still unapproved by the federal government but being used on human patients -- should proceed with caution with this new information at hand.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Disease: Skin Cancer Drug Sparks Hope, Desperation

iStockphoto/Thinkstock (file photo)(NEW YORK) -- John Vasse would do anything to save his wife, June, from Alzheimer's -- the degenerative disease that's swiftly stealing her memory.

It's been three years since the devastating diagnosis, and Vasse knows the disease will progress and eventually kill his wife of 42 years.  So when he heard last week that a skin cancer drug had reversed Alzheimer's symptoms in mice, he was determined to get a hold of it.

"What's the harm in trying?" said Vasse, 68, who lives with 66-year-old June in St. Louis.  "If someone doesn't know who they are and needs to be cleaned and toileted several times daily, what could possibly be worse than that?"

The drug, bexarotene, whose trade name is Targretin, quickly cleared abnormal plaques of a protein called beta amyloid from the brain and improved memory in three different mouse models of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.  Beta amyloid is just one feature of Alzheimer's disease in humans.

Because bexarotene is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for skin cancer, doctors can legally prescribe it "off-label" for other conditions.  Still, Alzheimer's experts urge families to temper their hope until the drug is proved safe and effective by years of clinical trials -- a tall order for the country's 5.4 million patients and 14.9 million caregivers.

"At this point in time, it would really be unethical for a physician to prescribe the medication and, I think, foolish for the patient to take it," said William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer's Association.

Like other cancer drugs, bexarotene can produce serious side effects, including headaches, hair loss, nausea and depression, and can increase cholesterol levels, according to the National Institutes of Health.  In elderly Alzheimer's patients, many of whom take multiple medications, bexarotene could interact and interfere with other drugs.

Thies said the Alzheimer's Association received more than a dozen calls about bexarotene after the Science study was published last week.  Other doctors contacted by ABC News said they, too, had been contacted by caregivers clamoring for the drug.

"I just said we don't know if it's safe or effective," said Dr. George Grossberg, director of geriatric psychiatry at St. Louis University, who treats June.  "I don't think we should be prescribing medications if we have no idea how to use them.  It's irresponsible."

For Vasse, who said he has been "paralyzed" by depression and anxiety since his wife started to slip away, the prospect of bringing her back is almost worth the risk.  He has agreed to wait until Grossberg, her doctor, gives the go-ahead, and said he'd be willing to pay for the drug out of pocket.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cancer Drug Erases Alzheimer’s in Mice

Comstock/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- A drug typically used to treat skin cancer quickly reversed Alzheimer’s disease in mice, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Alzheimer’s researchers call the results exciting, but they remain cautious about the drug’s ability to fight the disease in humans.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University gave the drug to mice that had brain hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease: abnormal protein plaques and tangles, which destroy the brain’s centers for memory and cognitive function.

Within hours of taking the drug, the plaques began to clear out of the mice’s brains. After three days on the drug, more than 50 percent of the Alzheimer’s plaques had disappeared, and the mice regained some of the cognitive and memory functions typically lost by the disease’s destructive march through the brain.

“We were absolutely astounded and thrilled,” said Paige Cramer, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “The research on treatments out there doesn’t show such improvement with such speed.”

The drug, bexarotene, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of skin cancer. Cramer said it helps the body increase its stores of a key protein, called ApoE, which helps clear Alzheimer’s plaques from the brain.

“As a consequence of aging, the ability to clear plaque from the brain goes down, and we are able to enhance ApoE,” Cramer said. “The benefit of this drug is we are just facilitating or enhancing Mother Nature.”

But the drug must make the leap from success in mice to success in humans, which has foiled many other promising Alzheimer’s drugs. Researchers say bexarotene has an advantage because it is already approved by the FDA for use in humans.

“It’s still an animal study, and it still needs to be moved into humans. But it is exciting and is a novel approach,” said Maria Carrillo, senior director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association.

A host of potential drugs for Alzheimer’s disease have shown promise in early research, then failed to show any actual effectiveness against the disease upon further study. Most recently, in January, Pfizer and Medivation pulled the plug on clinical trials for dimebon, an antihistamine nasal spray that had shown some benefit for Alzheimer’s patients. The companies said the clinical trials failed to show that the drug actually worked against the disease.

Dr. William Klunk, co-director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, said the current study on bexarotene opens an exciting new avenue for the potential successful treatment of the disease. But he remains cautiously optimistic.

“We in this field have seen enough success in mouse studies not pan out in human studies to know this is just the beginning and there’s a long way to go,” Klunk said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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