Protecting those gray cells

Posted under Blog on November 30th, 2012 by Editorial Team / No Comments

Alongside medical treatments, there are many practical things that people can do to help manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. You may have heard the expression that “the brain is a muscle,” and while this is not completely accurate (the brain is an organ), it is certainly true that, just like your muscles, you should exercise your brain. 

This week a local report from Austin, Texas featured a regular get-together for people with Alzheimer’s at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church.  Called “Early Memory Loss Support”, the focus of the weekly meeting is on creative activities such as music therapy, brain teasers, creative writing and discussions about current events.

Carl Goxley, a 74 year old Russian Orthodox priest, says the meetings give him a chance to express himself in a comfortable environment without being judged.  “I feel safe here.  I feel that these people understand me and I have a sense of belonging, where in the general public I don’t.  I’m safe here in a very good healthy way that I don’t have to do things that I’m not able to do anymore,” Carl said.

Anna Finger, programme director, is herself inspired by the group members. “Whatever obstacles we face in our life, you just keep going,” she said. “You march through it and you rally your troops and you find people who can accept you despite your challenges and your limitations and the mistakes that you make and, hopefully, you can laugh about it. So, I’m learning from them.”

Flexing the gray cells is of course just as important as flexing the muscles.  A new report out this week found that active lifestyles can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia, and can even protect the brain in older adults. 

Researchers from the University of California looked at the impact of active lifestyles on 876 adults with an average age of 78 years.  They found that more exercise was linked to larger gray matter volumes in the brain. They also found a clear association between high energy output and greater gray matter volume among the participants with mild cognitive impairment. 

The study leader, Dr Cyrus Raji, said that an important part of the study was its emphasis on having a large variety of different lifestyle choices. He said, "what struck me most about the study results is that it is not one but a combination of lifestyle choices and activities that benefit the brain."

He noted that the impact of an active lifestyle on the brain was probably due to improved vascular health. "Virtually all of the physical activities examined in this study are some kind of variation of aerobic physical activity, which we know from other work can improve cerebral blood flow and strengthen neuronal connections. Additional work needs to be done. However, our initial results show that brain aging can be alleviated through an active lifestyle."

So whether it’s Sudoku and a daily walk or crosswords and working in the garden, exercising the brain and the body may make it easier to manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. 


Tags: exercise, memory loss, physical activity

Women's risk of Alzheimer's

Posted under Blog on September 4th, 2012 by Editorial Team / No Comments

A new scientific paper has prompted newspapers to question why ‘women are twice as likely than men to get Alzheimer’s’, claiming that experts believe it’s linked to hormones. As always, the story behind the headline is far more complicated. However, there are certain differences between men and women with Alzheimer’s and Professor Glenda Gillies, Professor of Neuroendocrine Pharmacology at Imperial College London, believes more research into gender differences is urgently needed.

Interest in this topic has been spurred by a paper from Karen Irvine’s team at the University of Hertfordshire, published in the latest issue of Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.1 The authors analysed results from several studies of men and women with Alzheimer’s and concluded that women with Alzheimer’s do appear to deteriorate more quickly and more severely than men. Furthermore, women seem to be at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, although the higher number of women living with the disease is largely due to the fact that women live longer than men.

On reviewing study results, the researchers found that men with Alzheimer’s disease appeared to fare better than female patients in memory tasks and verbal ability, whereas in healthy individuals, women tended to do better than men in verbal tests.

So why is the situation reversed in Alzheimer’s disease? Unfortunately, we don’t yet know. The authors suggest hormones and the loss of oestrogen in postmenopausal women may play a role. Another explanation is that men and women have different mental reserves for certain tasks and the reserves for men may help protect them slightly against Alzheimer’s. Other researchers have claimed that Alzheimer’s manifests itself differently in the brains of men and women, causing ‘tangles’ between nerve cells within different parts of the brain, which affect different functions.

Whatever the reason, there’s a clear need for more research to help understand this devastating disease and improve treatment for all patients.

  1. Irvine K et al. Greater cognitive deterioration in women than men with Alzheimer’ disease. A meta analysis. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology August 2012, iFirst, 1-10


Tags: Alzheimer's, dementia, memory loss, risk factors, Women

Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

Posted under Blog on December 12th, 2011 by Editorial Team / No Comments

Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) are both two forms of dementia sharing similar symptoms. This means that telling the two apart is a real challenge. 

In a recent study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, so-called PIB markers were used along with a brain PET scan to detect amyloid in the brain. Amyloid is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease but completely unrelated to FTLD and usually detection is only possible after death. This led to an increased ability to differentiate between the two dementias.

"While widespread use of PIB PET scans isn't available at this time, similar amyloid markers are being developed for clinical use, and these findings support a role for amyloid imaging in correctly diagnosing Alzheimer's disease versus FTLD," said Rabinovici, the study’s author.

New research is vital and continuously being developed to detect Alzheimer’s disease and differentiate it from other forms of dementia. This will not only allow doctors to provide patients with an accurate diagnosis but will also aid research into treatments and cures.

Click here to find out more

Tags: Alzheimer's, amyloid, dementia, memory loss, PET scan



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