New research round up

Posted under Blog on July 25th, 2012 by Editorial Team / No Comments

The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), 14-19 July 2012, in Canada drew thousands of experts from around the world to share latest thinking and research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s. Some of the highlights are covered below.

Possible ‘early’ warning signs of Alzheimer’s

Changes in gait/walking

A collection of studies presented at the conference indicated that changes to the way you walk could be a sign of Alzheimer’s. Shorter, slower strides and changes in walking rhythm appeared to be associated with decline in memory function. In the future, walking tests could become a simple and inexpensive way to detect early cognitive decline and determine the need for further evaluation. Ongoing at-home monitoring appeared to provide more accurate results than a one-off test.

Fatty compounds in the blood

High levels of a fat compound called ceramide may be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Individuals with the highest levels were ten times more likely to develop the disease. However, this preliminary study was reasonably small. Results warrant further investigation before any conclusions can be made and an ‘early indicator’ test is developed.

Risk factors linked to alcohol and sleep

Alcohol consumption

The findings presented at the AAIC on alcohol consumption were the first to report cognitive effects of binge drinking in older people. It is well documented that drink kills brain cells but results detailing the impact on neurological health indicate a larger problem. Findings suggest Doctors should be aware of the effect of changing drinking habits among older people, particularly as they struggle to cope with old age or deal with loss.

Over 65s in the study who reported heavy drinking at least twice a month were more than twice as likely to have the greatest decline in both cognitive function and memory. A separate 20 year-study of older women looking at patters of drinking and risk to cognitive impairment seemed to endorse the damaging effects of moderate to high use of alcohol at all stages of life.

Sleep patterns

Too much as well as too little sleep was indicated as a risk factor for cognitive decline. It was revealed that those who slept fewer than five hours per day or more than nine hours per day had decreased brain function compared with those who slept for an optimal 7 hours. In addition, levels of a protein called amyloid beta, indicative of Alzheimer’s, were found to change in those sleeping more or less than 7 hours.

Variability in sleep patterns and disrupted sleep were also found to cause issues. Older individuals with sleep disorders like sleep apnea were found to have twice the odds of developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia. The authors suggest that “health practitioners should consider assessing older people with sleep disorders for changes in cognition.” They add “with additional long-term research, treatment of sleep disorders may be a promising method of delaying the development of MCI and dementia."

The benefits of exercise

Four studies showed the effects of different types of exercise on cognitive function in healthy adults and those with mild cognitive decline.

  • Moderate walking over a year long period appeared to increase part of the brain related to memory, even in adults who had previously been sedentary
  • Twice weekly resistance training seemed to improve the ability to perform memory tasks in those with probable cognitive impairment
  • A combined education and exercise programme, involving aerobic exercise, muscle strength training, and balance improved memory tests and language fluency in older people with beyond-normal memory loss    


Promise of new treatments

We’re not there yet but the hope is that new therapies will help stave off disease progression or even prevent the disease from developing. Although, the growing consensus is that we need to be able to diagnose and intervene early enough if this is to be achieved in the future. There’s particular interest in new approaches which aim to reduce or prevent the formation of sticky plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s. One of these studies generated news headlines after four patients with Alzheimer’s appeared to fare well with no mental decline at three years. We don’t know yet whether that’s because of the treatment or just the natural course of their disease, which is sometimes the case. Other patients in the study didn’t do so well. The study was too small to make any definite conclusions so we’ll need to wait for results from a larger Phase III study. In the meantime, ongoing research into potential new ways of treating Alzheimer’s continues.  

Links: Alzheimer’s Association International Conference – press releases and abstracts


Tags: AAIC, alcohol, Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, Cognitive decline, cognitive impairment, memory, new treatments, sleep, walking, ‘early’ warning signs

New research into the development of Alzheimer’s may improve future detection and treatment

Posted under Blog on July 13th, 2012 by Editorial Team / No Comments

Two pieces of research published this week reveal a timeline for the development of Alzheimer’s and a protective gene that helps to prevent the disease in a small percentage of the population. The two papers are published in the scientific journals The New England Journal of Medicine and Nature.

Alzheimer’s timeline might help early treatment and diagnosis

Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine studied individuals with a genetic risk for early onset Alzheimer’s. They revealed that changes in the brain occur at least two decades before the onset of clinical symptoms, suggesting that current diagnoses are usually made at an advanced stage of the disease’s biological development.

  • 25 years before – the earliest changes show increased levels of the protein, amyloid beta which go on to produce plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients
  • 15 years before - some shrinkage of the brain was observed along with increased levels of a protein called tau, which causes tangles between nerve cells
  • 10 years before - the brain’s ability to metabolise glucose appeared to change with the appearance of slight memory problems

These results may have dramatic implications for the diagnosis and treatment of those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s at an early age.

“The ability to detect the very earliest stages of Alzheimer's would not only allow people to plan and access care and existing treatments far sooner, but would also enable new drugs to be trialled in the right people, at the right time," commented Dr Eric Karran, director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK.


Rare protective gene prevents Alzheimer’s

A few lucky people appear to carry a genetic mutation which prevents them from developing Alzheimer’s.

The mutation — the first ever found to protect against the disease — lies in a gene that produces amyloid precursor protein (APP), which has long been suspected to be at the heart of Alzheimer’s although its function is still largely unknown. This research does seem to point a finger at amyloid-β, the target for several therapies being investigated to see if they can slow the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. However, scientists say this doesn’t mean it’s the only factor.



Tags: AAIC, Alzheimer's Association International Conference, diagnosis, Early Alzheimer's, research, The New England Journal, treatment



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