Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts, premiering January 25, 2017, at 10pm ET, is an urgent wake-up call about the national threat posed by Alzheimer’s disease. Many know the unique tragedy of this disease, but few know that Alzheimer’s is one of the most critical public health crises facing America. This powerful documentary illuminates the social and economic consequences for the country unless a medical breakthrough is discovered for this currently incurable disease.
If learning can be assimilated into an existing knowledge base, advantage tilts to the old.
If you are over 20, look away now. Your cognitive performance is probably already on the wane. The speed with which people can process information declines at a steady rate from as early as their 20s.
A common test of processing speed is the “digit symbol substitution test”, in which a range of symbols are paired with a set of numbers in a code. Participants are shown the code, given a row of symbols and then asked to write down the corresponding number in the box below within a set period. There is nothing cognitively challenging about the task; levels of education make no difference to performance. But age does. Speed consistently declines as people get older.
Why this should be is still a matter of hypothesis, but a range of tentative explanations has been put forward. One points the finger at myelin, a white, fatty substance that coats axons, the tendrils that carry signals from one neuron to another. Steady reductions in myelin as people age may be slowing down these connections. Another possibility, says Timothy Salthouse, director of the Cognitive Ageing Laboratory at the University of Virginia, is depletion of a chemical called dopamine, receptor sites for which decline in number with advancing age.
Fortunately, there is some good news to go with the bad . . .
Older, fitter adults experience greater brain activity while learning - Boston University Medical Center
Older adults who experience good cardiac fitness may be also keeping their brains in good shape as well.
In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, older adults who scored high on cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF) tests performed better on memory tasks than those who had low CRF. Further, the more fit older adults were, the more active their brain was during learning. These findings appear in the journal Cortex. Difficulty remembering new information represents one of the most common complaints in aging and decreased memory performance is one of the hallmark impairments in Alzheimer's disease.
Healthy young (18-31 years) and older adults (55-74 years) with a wide range of fitness levels walked and jogged on a treadmill while researchers assessed their cardio-respiratory fitness by measuring the ratio of inhaled and exhaled oxygen and carbon dioxide. These participants also underwent MRI scans which collected images of their brain while they learned and remembered names that were associated with pictures of unfamiliar faces.
Meditation and music may help reverse early memory loss in adults at risk for Alzheimer’s Disease - West Virginia University
Simple meditation or a music listening program may have multiple benefits for older adults with pre-clinical memory loss - West Virginia University
In a recent study of adults with early memory loss, a West Virginia University research team lead by Dr. Kim Innes found that practice of a simple meditation or music listening program may have multiple benefits for older adults with preclinical memory loss.
In this randomized controlled trial, 60 older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer's disease, were assigned to either a beginner meditation (Kirtan Kriya) or music listening program and asked to practice 12 minutes/day for 12 weeks. As detailed in a paper recently published by the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, both the meditation and music groups showed marked and significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance at 3 months. These included domains of cognitive functioning most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia (e.g., attention, executive function, processing speed, and subjective memory function). The substantial gains observed in memory and cognition were maintained or further increased at 6 months (3 months post-intervention).
Concussions accelerate Alzheimer's disease-related brain atrophy and cognitive decline.
New research has found concussions accelerate Alzheimer's disease-related brain atrophy and cognitive decline in people who are at genetic risk for the condition.
The findings, which appear in the journal Brain, show promise for detecting the influence of concussion on neurodegeneration.
Moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury is one of the strongest environmental risk factors for developing neurodegenerative diseases such as late-onset Alzheimer's disease, although it is unclear whether mild traumatic brain injury or concussion also increases this risk.
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) studied 160 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, some who had suffered one or more concussions and some who had never had a concussion. Using MRI imaging, the thickness of their cerebral cortex was measured in seven regions that are the first to show atrophy in Alzheimer's disease, as well as seven control regions.
"We found that having a concussion was associated with lower cortical thickness in brain regions that are the first to be affected in Alzheimer's disease," explained corresponding author Jasmeet Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM and research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System. "Our results suggest that when combined with genetic factors, concussions may be associated with accelerated cortical thickness and memory decline in Alzheimer's disease relevant areas."
Older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume.
MINNEAPOLIS – A new study shows that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet retained more brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not follow the diet as closely. The study is published in the January 4, 2017, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. But contrary to earlier studies, eating more fish and less meat was not related to changes in the brain. The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice, moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine, and limited red meat and poultry. “As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory,” said study author Michelle Luciano, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.” Researchers gathered information on the eating habits of 967 Scottish people around age 70 who did not have dementia. Of those people, 562 had an MRI brain scan around age 73 to measure overall brain volume, gray matter volume and thickness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. From that group, 401 people then returned for a second MRI at age 76. These measurements were compared to how closely participants followed the Mediterranean diet. The participants varied in how closely their dietary habits followed the Mediterranean diet principles. People who didn’t follow as closely to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have a higher loss of total brain volume over the three years than people who followed the diet more closely. The difference in diet explained 0.5 percent of the variation in total brain volume, an effect that was half the size of that due to normal aging. The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, education and having diabetes or high blood pressure. There was no relationship between grey matter volume or cortical thickness and the Mediterranean diet. The researchers also found that fish and meat consumption were not related to brain changes, which is contrary to earlier studies. “It’s possible that other components of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for this relationship, or that it’s due to all of the components in combination,” Luciano said. Luciano noted that earlier studies looked at brain measurements at one point in time, whereas the current study followed people over time. “In our study, eating habits were measured before brain volume was, which suggests that the diet may be able to provide long-term protection to the brain,” said Luciano. “Still, larger studies are needed to confirm these results.” The study was supported by Age UK, the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the UK Medical Research Council and the Scottish Funding Council SINAPSE Collaboration. To learn more about brain health, visit www.aan.com/patients.
The American Academy of Neurology is the world's largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with 30,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.
For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit AAN.com or find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
HELSINKI (Reuters) - Regular visits to the sauna can help lower the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease as well as dying of heart ailments, a Finnish study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland found a link between sauna visits and memory diseases after following more than 2,300 middle-aged Finnish men for more than 20 years.
In the study, men who went to the sauna four to seven times a week were found 66 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia, and 65 percent less likely with Alzheimer's disease, than those taking a sauna once a week.
"We have taken into account other lifestyle factors, like physical activity and socioeconomic factors ... There is an independent effect of sauna on these outcomes," said Jari Laukkanen, senior researcher and a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Eastern Finland.
He noted that the study only indicated an association between the sauna and memory diseases, and the findings would have to be fleshed out through further studies with different age groups, other nationalities and women.
The findings, published in the journal Age and Ageing in December, suggested however that the health benefits of sauna could extend from the heart to the brain.
Previous results of the follow-up study have shown that men who spent time in a sauna seven times a week were less likely to die of heart problems, compared to those who only partook once a week. "In the sauna, the heart rate increases and we start to sweat. This is a bit like physical exercise," Laukkonen said.
"After sauna, you may have lower blood pressure, and blood pressure is an important risk factor in cardiovascular and memory diseases. This may be one possible explanation for our findings," Laukkanen said.
Regular bathers at the Finnish Sauna Society, which has around 4,200 members in Helsinki, agree that good health many be linked to the relaxing effects of sauna visits.
Club members go to the sauna several times a week, and in winter cool off with a swim in the icy Baltic Sea.
"I feel relaxed after sauna, and it's a place where I can have a nice conversation with my friends. The social aspect is the best thing about sauna, when you get older," Hannu Pitkanen, a senior member of the sauna society, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Tuomas Forsell and Attila Cser, editing by Jussi Rosendahl)
I'm a research-driven Boomer with concerns - like many of my friends - about keeping our minds sharp and leaning-in against the age-related mental impairments that impact our parents - and may impact lots of us in the years ahead.
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