seniors

New gene associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's

April, 2010

Another gene has been identified that appears to increase risk of Alzheimer’s. The gene is involved in influencing the body's levels of homocysteine (high levels are known to be a strong risk factor), and have also been implicated in coronary artery disease.

Another gene has been identified that appears to increase risk of Alzheimer’s. The gene, MTHFD1L, is located on chromosome six. Comparison of the genomes of 2,269 people with late-onset Alzheimer's disease and 3,107 people without the disease found those with a particular variation in this gene were almost twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as those people without the variation. The gene is involved in influencing the body's levels of homocysteine (high levels are known to be a strong risk factor), and have also been implicated in coronary artery disease.

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The results were presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd Annual Meeting in Toronto, April 10–17, 2010.

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Losing muscle mass early sign of Alzheimer’s

April, 2010
  • Previous research has found that unexplained weight loss is an early sign of Alzheimer's. Now a new study has revealed that it is not the overall weight or fat levels that are important, but the loss of lean mass (weight of an individual's bones, muscles and organs without body fat).

Previous research has found that unexplained weight loss is an early sign of Alzheimer's. Now a study involving 140 older adults (60+), of whom half had early-stage Alzheimer's disease, has revealed that it is not the overall weight or fat levels that are important, but the loss of lean mass (weight of an individual's bones, muscles and organs without body fat). This directly correlated with reductions in the volume of the whole brain and of white matter only, along with declines in cognitive performance. The finding is consistent with research suggesting that brain pathology contributes to a decline in body composition, perhaps by disrupting the regulation of energy metabolism and food intake, perhaps through behavioral changes (there is a strong association between loss of muscle mass and reductions in physical activity), or perhaps through a common underlying mechanism, such as inflammation.

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Memory problems not the only predictor of later mild cognitive impairment

August, 2010

A study finds poor learning plus depression or slow processing speed predicts the development of amnestic mild cognitive impairment for seniors.

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment often leads to Alzheimer's disease, but what predicts aMCI? A study involving 94 older adults has revealed that lower performance on tests measuring learning, in conjunction with either slower visuomotor processing speed or depressive symptoms, predicted the development of aMCI a year later with an accuracy of 80-100%. It is worth emphasizing that poor learning alone was not predictive in that time-frame, although one learning measure was predictive of aMCI two years later. Interestingly, neither gender nor possession of the ‘Alzheimer’s gene’ —long believed to be risk factors for mild cognitive impairment — had any substantial influence on later impairment.

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[1690] Han, D. S., Suzuki H., Jak A. J., Chang Y-L., Salmon D. P., & Bondi M. W.
(2010).  Hierarchical Cognitive and Psychosocial Predictors of Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment.
Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. 16(04), 721 - 729.

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Apple juice improves behavior in Alzheimer's patients

August, 2010

A pilot study found daily apple juice improved behavioral and psychotic symptoms in those with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s.

A pilot study involving 21 institutionalized individuals with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s found that, although drinking two 4-oz glasses of apple juice daily for a month produced no change in the Dementia Rating Scale or in the Activities of Daily Living measure, there was a significant (27%) improvement in behavioral and psychotic symptoms. The largest changes occurred in anxiety, agitation, and delusion.

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[1630] Remington, R., Chan A., Lepore A., Kotlya E., & Shea T. B.
(2010).  Apple Juice Improved Behavioral But Not Cognitive Symptoms in Moderate-to-Late Stage Alzheimer’s Disease in an Open-Label Pilot Study.
American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias. 367 - 371.

Full text is available free for a limited time at http://aja.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/25/4/367.

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TMS improves language comprehension in Alzheimer's sufferers

August, 2010

A pilot study found two weeks of daily repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation to the prefrontal lobes improved speech comprehension in those with moderate Alzheimer's.

A pilot study involving 10 patients with moderate Alzheimer's disease, of whom half were randomly assigned to the treatment, has found that two weeks of receiving daily (25 minute) periods of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation to the prefrontal lobes produced a significant improvement in the patients’ ability to understand spoken language. Correct answers on a comprehension test rose from 66% to over 77%. Two further weeks of the treatment produced no further improvement, but the improvements were still evident eight weeks after the end of the treatment. The effect was limited to this specific cognitive function.

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Common Alzheimer's medication helps skills necessary for safe driving

August, 2010

The most common type of Alzheimer's drugs (cholinesterase inhibitors) was associated with improved attention and driving skills in those with early stage Alzheimer's.

A study involving outpatients with early stage Alzheimer’s found that their performance on some computerized tests of executive function and visual attention, including a simulated driving task, improved significantly after three months of taking cholinesterase inhibitors. Specifically, the drug treatment was associated with an improved ability to accurately maintain lane position during the simulated driving task; to accurately and quickly detect a target in a visual search task; to more quickly complete computerized mazes.

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Cognitive ability, not age, predicts risky decisions

July, 2010

A new study provides evidence that it's not age per se that affects the quality of decision-making, but individual differences in processing speed and memory.

A study involving 54 older adults (66-76) and 58 younger adults (18-35) challenges the idea that age itself causes people to become more risk-averse and to make poorer decisions. Analysis revealed that it is individual differences in processing speed and memory that affect decision quality, not age. The stereotype has arisen no doubt because more older people process slowly and have poorer memory. The finding points to the need to identify ways in which to present information that reduces the demand on memory or the need to process information very quickly, to enable those in need of such help (both young and old) to make the best choices. Self-knowledge also helps — recognizing if you need to take more time to make a decision.

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Teenage physical activity reduces risk of cognitive impairment later

July, 2010

A large long-running study reveals that physical activity is always important for women wanting to prevent cognitive impairment in old age, but being active in adolescence is most important.

A large longitudinal study, comparing physical activity at teenage, age 30, age 50, and late life against cognition of 9,344 women, has revealed that women who are physically active at any point have a lower risk of cognitive impairment in late-life compared to those who are inactive, but teenage physical activity is the most important. When age, education, marital status, diabetes, hypertension, depressive symptoms, smoking, and BMI were accounted for, only teenage physical activity status remained significantly associated with cognitive performance in old age. Although becoming active later in life didn’t make up for being inactive in adolescence, it did significantly reduce the risk of cognitive impairment compared to those who remained physically inactive. The findings are a strong argument for greater effort in increasing physical activity in today's youth.

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Abdominal fat at middle age associated with greater risk of dementia

July, 2010

More evidence that excess abdominal fat, independent of your overall BMI, places otherwise healthy, middle-aged people at greater risk for dementia later in life.

A study involving 733 participants from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort (average age 60) provides more evidence that excess abdominal fat places otherwise healthy, middle-aged people at greater risk for dementia later in life. The study also confirms that a higher BMI (body mass index) is associated with lower brain volumes in both older and middle-aged adults. However the association between visceral fat and total brain volume was independent of BMI. Visceral fat differs from subcutaneous fat in that it is buried deeper, beneath the muscles, around the organs. While it can only be seen by CT imaging, a pot belly or thick waist suggests its presence. For women (who become particularly vulnerable to this after menopause), a waistline above 88 cm is regarded as signaling a dangerous amount of visceral fat. Regular vigorous exercise, and consumption of polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fats, is recommended.

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Looking after a spouse with dementia greatly increases your own risk of dementia

July, 2010

A long-running study has revealed that caring for a spouse with dementia is as strong a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's as having the 'Alzheimer's gene'.

A 12-year study involving 1,221 married couples ages 65 or older (part of the Cache County (Utah) Memory Study) has revealed that husbands or wives who care for spouses with dementia are six times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s themselves than those whose spouses don't have it. The increased risk is of comparable size to having the ‘Alzheimer's gene’. The researchers speculate that the great stress of caregiving might be responsible for the increased dementia risk, emphasizing the need for greater caregiver support.

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[1583] Norton, M. C., Smith K. R., Østbye T., Tschanz JA. T., Corcoran C., Schwartz S., et al.
(2010).  Greater Risk of Dementia When Spouse Has Dementia? The Cache County Study.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 58(5), 895 - 900.

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