Entries in alzheimer's disease (44)


Brain Games May Help Thwart Alzheimer’s: Study

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Worried about Alzheimer’s disease? You may want to finish that game of sudoku before you read this.

Researchers behind a study in this week’s Archives of Neurology say they have a found a link between “brain-stimulating activities” and levels of protein thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

“Your lifestyle over the course of your lifetime may be critical in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” University of California-Berkeley researcher and study author Dr. Susan Landau said.

The Alzheimer’s Association said the study “contains some valuable new data regarding the possible relationship between modifiable lifestyle risk factors and the brain changes that are indicative of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and memory loss in adults, particularly those above the age of 60. It is thought to be caused by an accumulation of a particular protein called amyloid in the brain. Most normal people have a small amount of this protein in their brain, and it is thought that the accumulation over one’s lifetime may result in the disease.

The researchers of this study interviewed 65 healthy people about their reading, writing and game-playing habits throughout their lives starting at age 6. These same adults went through a special brain scanner that can detect amyloid.

They found that people who did more reading, writing and game playing over the course of their lifetime have less of this brain protein, which may mean lower chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Landau explains that game playing can be anything that stimulates the brain -- whether it is a game of sudoku, a crossword puzzle or even Angry Birds.

“There was no emphasis on what games were played, but just at what age and how often people were participating in brain-stimulating activities, including reading, writing and games,” Landau said.

With people living longer than ever before, Alzheimer’s disease is becoming a bigger -- and more common -- problem. So far, most researchers have focused on treating the disease. But studies such as this one may point to ways we can prevent the disease altogether.

Dr. Samuel Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York City, said that while the study’s findings seem to make sense, they still “cannot be considered definitive evidence that can be prescribed to patients” and that more robust randomized clinical trials are required.

Gandy said, however, that physical exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is “conceivable that the benefits of physical exercise are partially or wholly due to the increased brain activity used to control muscles.”

So should we all join the sudoku trend?

While the study emphasizes that these results pertain to a lifetime's worth of brain stimulation, most experts believe that it is never too late to get active.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Researchers Tap Into 'Super Memory' by Isolating Gene

HANS-ULRICH OSTERWALDER/Getty Images(WACO, Texas) -- There's some hope for those with a failing memory: Scientists at Baylor University say they're now able to give mice "super memories" by isolating a gene that apparently blocks another gene called PKR, which is triggered at the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

And since humans and these rodents share similar brains, researchers now believe they can develop a pill that acts as an inhibitor of the PKR gene that we have similar with mice.

Baylor lead researcher Maura Costa-Mattioli adds that because they can now provide mice with "super memories," the same might be done to help humans in the not-too-distant future.

The goal of the pill would be to provide those with deteriorating memories a boost, not enhance those who are still pretty sharp.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Support for Fish in the Fight Against Alzheimer's

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- Eating baked or broiled fish may help fight the brain shrinkage and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tracked fish consumption and measured brain volume and memory function in 260 cognitively normal adults over 10 years.  In the end, study participants who ate more fish had bigger brain areas -- particularly the hippocampus, which is known to shrink in Alzheimer's -- and better memory than their fish-declining counterparts.

"We found higher levels of working memory in people who ate baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis, even when accounting for other factors, such as education, age, gender and physical activity," Dr. Cyrus Raji, lead author of the study, said in a statement.  Raji presented his findings Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Other research has hinted at fish's brain-boosting effects.  A 2010 study published in Archives of Neurology found that people who ate a Mediterranean diet high in fish, fruits and veggies were 38 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease over the next four years.

"Certainly this is not the first article to show a beneficial connection between fish consumption and Alzheimer's disease risk," said William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association.  "It seems to fit with what we know about eating fish."

This is the first time, however, that brain imaging has been used to support the findings.

Raji and colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging to capture 3-D images of subjects' brains at the beginning and end of the 10-year study.  Those who ate more fish tended to have bigger brain areas implicated in Alzheimer's, including the hippocampus, the posterior cingulate and the orbital frontal cortex.

While the results are encouraging, they do not necessarily mean eating fish protects against Alzheimer's -- an incurable disease that affects as many as 5.1 million Americans.  Rather, they provide support for a "possible beneficial effect of a diet rich in fish ingredients," according to Zaven S. Khachaturian, president of the Campaign to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease by 2020.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study Finds Possible Link Between Low BMI, Alzheimer's Disease

Creatas/Thinkstock(KANSAS CITY, Kan.) -- Maintaining a low Body Mass Index (BMI) has long been considered a healthy practice for the general population, but a new study suggests there could be a link between one's BMI and cognitive impairment.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, found that older people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease are more likely to have lower BMI.

"The earliest stages of Alzheimer's are associated with some metabolic dysfunction, as evidence with the differences in BMI," said Dr. Jeffrey Burns, lead author of the study and director of the Alzheimer and Memory Program at University of Kansas Medical Center.  "We saw the relationship between Alzheimer's markers with body composition with low BMI in people in the earliest stages of the disease, both in people with mild cognitive impairment and in people without functional problems."

While Burns said he does not have the evidence to support whether low BMI puts people at risk of cognitive impairment or cognitive impairment may contribute to lower BMI, he said it goes beyond simple changes in one's ability to remember to eat.

"It reflects there is a systemic response to an underlying problem," said Burns.  "We think of Alzheimer's as classically a brain disease, but now there's evidence that there are measurable changes going on in the body."

BMI is a number calculated from a person's height and weight that is meant to indicate body fatness in most people.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.5 and below is considered underweight; normal weight ranges from 18.5 to 24.9; overweight spans from 25 to 29.9; and obese is considered 30 and above.

Researchers analyzed more than 500 patients with Alzheimer's biomarkers through advanced brain imaging techniques and cerebrospinal fluid.  The biomarkers are often present years before symptoms set in.  Study participants included people without any memory problems and those with mild cognitive impairment.

While the link between later-life low body mass and Alzheimer's disease has been fairly established by previous research publications, William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, said this study appears to extend this relationship to the earliest stages of Alzheimer's pathology through the biomarker findings.

Interestingly, prior research has shown that middle-aged people who are overweight or obese (higher BMIs) are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Copyright 2011 ABC News radio


Pat Summitt: No Regrets on Announcing Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

J. Meric/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Last August, the winningest coach in college basketball history stunned the sports world when she revealed that she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In an exclusive interview airing Friday on ABC News’ 20/20, University of Tennessee women’s basketball legend Pat Summitt told Robin Roberts that she has no regrets about going public with her disease.

“Initially I was like, you know, ‘How am I gonna do this?’” she said. “I just said, ‘Gotta do it.’”

She drew a lesson, she said, from the late President Ronald Reagan, who also struggled with Alzheimer’s.

“I was working out, and...they had the Ronald Reagan story on. And I was sitting there, looking at it, and they were telling his story. And, you know, first he did not come clean as to what [he] really had,” she said. “So I sat there and watched it that day, and I remember I had tears coming down my eyes, and I said, ‘Well, that could be me.’”

The Reagan connection didn’t end there: Former First Lady Nancy Reagan sent Summitt a letter of support.

“She said, you know, I heard about your diagnosis of dementia, and I just wanted to reach out to you and just tell you, you know, that it’s going to be OK,” Summitt said.

Summitt said she wrote back to Reagan, thanking her.

“It just meant the world to me that she reached out,” she said. “I just got the chills.”

Watch the full story on ABC's 20/20 Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Most Dementia Cases Undiagnosed, Report Reveals

HANS-ULRICH OSTERWALDER/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Nearly three-quarters of the 36 million people living with dementia have not been diagnosed with it, according to a new report sponsored by Alzheimer’s Disease International.

Experts say the lack of diagnosis has enormous repercussions on early treatment and care, and has a direct impact on the disease’s cost to society.

“Early diagnosis and intervention is good for people with dementia, their caregivers and society as a whole,” said Dr. Sube Banerjee, a professor of mental health and aging at King’s College London and a co-author of the report. “The bad news is that there are lots of people who do not benefit from early treatment and care because they are simply diagnosed too late.”

Treatment gaps are prevalent worldwide, said Banerjee, and because of this, countries should make dementia a national health priority by generating response strategies and policies to manage it.

“It’s so important to have good quality dementia care because there is a dependence that happens and patients stay dependent, so it’s important for countries to have long-term strategies,” Banerjee said.

The global cost of Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementias reached an estimated $600 billion last year, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International, and the cost constitutes about one percent of the world’s domestic product. If dementia were a country, its economy would rank No. 18 in the world, according to the report. And those numbers will spike even higher, as the illness is expected to increase three-fold by 2050.

“Knowledge is power here,” Banerjee said. “But you can’t access care if you don’t know what you have.”

While early medical intervention can slow the progression of the disease, there are also smaller, simpler options that can go hand-in-hand with treatment.  Peer and support groups allow patients and caregivers to share solutions and  treatment options at early diagnosis.  Studies have found that patients and their families benefit from such help and support in the early stages of diagnosis, the authors said.

“There are those beliefs out there that dementia is just a natural part of aging, but it’s not,” said Banerjee. “It’s a nasty, horrible illness. We can’t make it go away right now, but we can make life with it much better if they’re diagnosed early.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Doctors Debate Effectiveness of Alzheimer's Milkshake

George Doyle/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Some call it a novel approach to treating Alzheimer's disease. Others call it "snake oil."

Either way, Axona is different from other treatments. It's a milkshake -- not a drug, but a "medical food," and it's a controversial alternative for Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers who face a frustrating lack of options when it comes to treating the disease successfully. Like drugs, "medical foods" are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the agency's approval standards for this category are far less rigorous than for drugs.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are just five FDA-approved drugs to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's, compared with the dozens available for conditions like cancer or heart disease. And scientists say none of the Alzheimer's drugs provide patients any lasting protection from the gradual advance of the disease's symptoms.

"Current treatments are modestly useful, but certainly inadequate. There is an enormous need for more effective therapy for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Paul Aisen, a neuroscience professor at the University of California, San Diego. "Patients and families want to find anything that may help."

Without any "magic bullet" cures, alternative treatments like Axona can offer a glimmer of hope to patients who have tried everything without success. But doctors are divided over whether these treatments are worth exploring or if they merely give false hope to patients with few options.

According to Accera, the milkshake's manufacturer, Axona was created as a solution to the problem of brain cells in Alzheimer's patients not being able to use the fuel they need to function: glucose. Instead, Axona provides the brain with an alternative fuel source: fats called ketones. On its website, Accera says that one Axona milkshake each day will "improve cognitive function in some AD patients."

Some scientists point to a lack of data showing that the treatment has any real effect on the disease.

In 2009, Accera studied a small number of patients who drank one Axona milkshake per day, and found that they improved 1.9 points on a 70-point cognitive testing scale than patients who drank a placebo milkshake. However, the benefits didn't last as long as the company hoped -- only 45 days as opposed to the 90-day goal.

That short fall is enough to persuade scientists like Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School, that the treatment is worthless.

"This is just expensive coconut oil," said Dr. Roger Brumback, professor of neurology at the Creighton University School of Medicine. "It's another example of false hopes and an entrepreneur's financial gain in a disease that is clearly devastating to patients and families."

But other physicians aren't so quick to dismiss Axona. Steven Ferris, director of the Aging and Dementia Research Center at New York University, serves on the scientific advisory board at Accera, Axona's manufacturer. He said Axona's method of using different fuel to power Alzheimer's brain cells is a legitimate idea that scientists have explored since the 1980s. Although Axona's benefits are not proven, he said he doesn't believe the idea behind it is entirely worthless.

"I wouldn't characterize it as snake oil, simply because it does have a scientific basis and there is some data that suggests a potential benefit," he said. "If this were out there available in the supermarkets, I'd really be concerned. But we do have gatekeepers, the physicians. It really comes down to individual judgments by prescribers as to whether this is appropriate for their patients or not."

Richard Isaacson, a neurologist at the University of Miami School of Medicine who is also a paid consultant for Accera, said he likes having new options to present to patients who have so few.

"I don't want to give patients false hope, but I want to give them options," Isaacson said. "I want to do anything and everything I can for them. As long as it's safe, I'm still going to try it."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pat Summitt to Keep Coaching Despite Dementia Diagnosis

J. Meric/Getty Images(KNOXVILLE, Tenn.) -- Pat Summitt plans to keep coaching women's college basketball despite her diagnoses of early-onset dementia, she said.

In a statement to the University of Tennessee and her Lady Vol basketball team, Summitt. 59, said she would not let Alzheimer's-type dementia force her into early retirement.

"I love being your coach, and the privilege to go to work every day with our outstanding Lady Vol basketball student-athletes."

After months of memory lapses, Summitt recently visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where doctors diagnosed her having with a rare form of Alzheimer's-type dementia that strikes people younger than 65, who often have a family history of Alzheimer's disease.

But the tough Tennessee native, who has won more games in her 36-year coaching career than any other college coach ever, won't give up easily.

"Obviously, I realize I may have some limitations with this condition, since there will be some good days and some bad days," she said. "For that reason, I will be relying on my outstanding coaching staff like never before."

Dementia risk increases with age. Alzheimer's disease -- the most common form of dementia -- affects up to half of people older than 85. But early-onset dementia poses special problems for younger, otherwise healthy people, many of whom balance busy jobs and young families.

"Learning about the disease when people have mild symptoms is very important in terms of planning the future, maximizing their ability to work and have appropriate supports in their jobs," said Dr. Steven DeKosky, a neurologist and dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

On top of taking care of business, people with early-onset dementia often take care of children or parents -- a commitment they may no longer be able to meet, DeKosky said.

Summitt's son Tyler, 20, called his mom's courage and honesty about her diagnosis inspiring.

"Pat Summitt is not only my mom but also an incredible role model and mentor for me," he said in a statement. "This will be a new chapter for my mom and I, and we will continue to work as a team like we always have done."

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer's-type dementia, there are treatments. Drugs that block the breakdown of acetycholine -- the neurotransmitter released by the neurons that die off during the disease -- can help reduce symptoms. And behavioral interventions that keep the mind active may help build up a cognitive reserve to stave off severe symptoms.

The course of early-onset dementia is variable, so it's unclear how quickly or slowly Summitt's symptoms will progress.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gunter Sachs’ Suicide Highlights Depression in Alzheimer's Disease

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The death of Gunter Sachs, iconic playboy of the go-go 1960s, has brought to light how depression often accompanies Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Huntington's. The German billionaire and ex-husband of Brigitte Bardot fatally shot himself Saturday at his chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, at age 78, leaving a suicide note that revealed his struggle with an illness he dubbed "A," thought to stand for Alzheimer's.

"The loss of mental control over my life was an undignified condition, which I decided to counter decisively," read the signed note, released by Sachs' family to Swiss media Sunday.

Roughly one-third of people with Alzheimer's disease also suffer from a form of depression, according to Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at University of California at Los Angeles.

"The realization that you have a disease that has no cure, no treatment, that robs you of your mind, that can be pretty depressing," Small said. "Many people, when they grasp that, they don't want to live anymore. They don't want to face the future."

But the mood disturbance could also result from the same attack on brain cells that causes the memory loss and behavior changes associated with Alzheimer's, Small said. In a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Small and his colleagues found an association between the amount of plaque and tangles -- hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease -- in the brain and symptoms of anxiety or depression.

It is unclear whether Sachs had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or depression. Sachs' father, Willy Sachs, shot and killed himself in 1958.

Despite training as a mathematician and economist, Sachs made history as the 1958 European bobsled champion, a photographer, documentary filmmaker and author of the 1997's The Astrology File: Scientific Proof of the Link Between Star Signs and Human Behavior.

Sachs is survived by his third wife, former model Mirja Larsson, and their two sons, as well as a son by his first wife, Anne-Marie Faure, who died the same year as Sachs' father.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Criteria for Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease Expanded

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease has been updated to incorporate new brain imaging and biochemical tests that could signal the disease before symptoms appear.

The update, which is the first in 27 years, stems from mounting evidence that the degeneration of nerves deep within the brain starts years or even decades before memory loss and other cognitive changes are noticeable.

"It is our hope that incorporating scientific knowledge gained and technological advances made over the past quarter century will improve current diagnosis, bring the field closer to earlier detection and treatment, and ultimately lead to effective disease-modifying therapies," Alzheimer's Association chief medical and scientific officer William Thies said in a statement.

The new criteria, published Tuesday in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, open the door for research into the earliest stages of the disease and the development of drugs that may slow or stop the degenerative process before the damage is done.  Their release follows a report that brain areas affected by Alzheimer's disease start shrinking up to a decade before symptoms appear.

The new criteria detail three stages of Alzheimer's disease: preclinical (before outward symptoms are visible); mild cognitive impairment (mild memory and thinking changes enough to be noticed but not debilitating); and dementia, or full-on Alzheimer's disease.

Some researchers call the diagnostic criteria revamp a necessary step -- one they hope will breathe new life into a field deflated by a string of negative drug trials.

But the tests used to spot features of preclinical Alzheimer's disease, many of which are still under development, are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration as diagnostic or prognostic tools, which means the new criteria will currently only be used for research purposes.  And in the future, the cost of such tests and the meaning they carry will have to be carefully considered.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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