Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimers’

Activity Level and Alzheimer’s Disease

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

New research published in the journal Neurology indicates that performing everyday activities — including those that don’t officially meet the definition of "exercise" — may lower one’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers, led by Aron Buchman of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, found that elderly persons who moved about more (compared to their less active peers) were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. This was true even for active persons who did not work out, but who nevertheless kept busy by gardening or puttering around the house.

The study involved more than700 subjects, average age 82, without dementia. Their activity was monitored for up to ten days by an actigraph. The actigraph, a small device worn by the subjects, detected when they engaged in conventional forms of exercise, as well as when they moved around in other ways.>

Fast forward roughly four years. During that follow-up period, 71 subjects developed the signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Those in the 10 percent of subjects who were most active showed an 8 percent likelihood for developing signs of the illness. Those in the 10 percent of subjects who were least active had an 18 percent likelihood.

Since 602 of the 716 test subjects were female, it is not clear whether this study’s results can be applied to the general population. As no cause and effect relationship has been proven, one question that remains unanswered is: "Which comes first, lower activity level or cognitive decline?" (It is possible that experiencing the initial stages of Alzheimer’s disease somehow leads people to slow down.) Even so, this investigation adds to earlier research suggesting a possible connection between regular physical activity and brain health. Increasing all types of movement may be healthful in the long run.

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Rapid Cognitive Decline Near Life’s End

Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Researchers have long pondered this common phenomenon: when the decline in mental functioning speeds up dramatically during the last two or three years before an elderly person dies. It is still unclear whether this is caused by Alzheimer’s disease, aging itself, or the dying process. However, recent research led by Robert Wilson of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is casting some light on the subject.

The work, published online in Neurology, included an analysis of the lives of 174 priests and nuns who became medical research subjects in 1997. On the average, at about two-and-a-half years prior to death, their memory and thinking capabilities slumped at rates eight to 17 times faster than before that end-of-life stage.

Researchers ascertained that whereas Alzheimer’s may spur cognitive decline earlier during the aging process, other factors appear to come into play causing more rapid loss during those years just preceding death. Since the deterioration during this phase involves several aspects of brain functioning — not just memory — scientists reason that more than one disease is behind it.

On a brighter note, related research published simultaneously suggested that activities such as socializing, playing bridge, reading, working crossword puzzles, and playing board games might help to protect the brain from declining during advanced age. The researchers hope to pursue further study in both areas.

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A Promising Alzheimer’s Treatment

Monday, March 19th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

When mice with an Alzheimer’s-like condition were given bexarotene, a cancer drug, the undesirable plaque-forming protein in their brains began clearing within hours and their Alzheimer’s-like behavior was largely reversed within days. Laura Sanders, writing for ScienceNews (March 10, 2012), described the study, which was undertaken at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio:

The brains of persons with Alzheimer’s disease contain high levels of the plaque-forming protein amyloid-beta (A-beta). Like people, mice with a lot of A-beta in their brains experience memory loss and difficulty learning new things. For example, when normal laboratory mice are placed in cages with a supply of soft tissue paper, they usually chew it up and arrange it into a pile, thereby making a soft, comfortable nest for themselves. But mice with high A-beta levels lose their ability to make a mental connection between seeing the paper and the opportunity to form a soft place to lie. However, after three days of bexarotene treatment, these mice began building nests again.

Also like people with Alzheimer’s disease, mice with high A-beta levels often lose their sense of smell. When normal mice smell a strong odor again and again, they grow used to it and don’t act surprised the third, fourth or fifth time they’re exposed to it. But high A-beta mice don’t become accustomed to the scent and continue to act surprised every time they encounter it. Given bexarotene, these mice recovered their ability to get used to a smell.

Researchers reported that after 14 days of treatment, plaque levels in the laboratory mice decreased by 75 percent. However, they cautioned that making the leap from research animals to human beings is the most difficult step in the drug development process. In any event, this study added to scientists’ understanding of amyloid-beta, so progress has been achieved.

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“Alzheimer’s” in Pets

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Many older adults benefit from the friendship of a companion pet. Like people, pets are living longer these days which may help to explain why an Alzheimer’s-like syndrome (called cognitive dysfunction, or CD, in animals) is receiving growing attention from veterinarians and scientists. Writing for USA Weekend, Steve Dale recently reported on the issue:

Veterinary behaviorist Gary Landsberg of Ontario, Canada, is conducting research on CD in cats. Carl Cottman, director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at University of California-Irvine, has investigated the disorder in both people and dogs. These researchers and other leaders in the field have learned that social interaction, physical exercise, enrichment (e.g., lifelong learning) and good diet appear to contribute to cognitive health in pets as well as in people.

Below are signs that CD may be present in a pet:

  • Disorientation/confusion;
  • Change in social interaction (e.g., withdrawal);
  • Sleeping disturbances;
  • Soiling in the house.
  • However, such problems could be caused by certain medical conditions like declining vision or diabetes, so veterinarians seek to exclude other medical explanations before settling on a diagnosis of CD. In some cases, CD and one or more additional health problems may be present.

    The experts agree that both cats and dogs should be given regular physical exercise. One of the best steps (pun intended) canine lovers can take is to walk their dogs. Moderate exercise is good for the heart and good for the brain — and that applies to the pet and to his or her human companion alike.

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    Short-Term Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s

    Friday, September 30th, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    A study of screening tests for Alzheimer’s disease was recently published in the Archives of General Psychiatry and discussed by MedlinePlus, a publication of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Somewhat surprisingly, the Spanish researchers who conducted the investigation found short-term memory loss to be a stronger predictor of Alzheimer’s disease than variables known as "biomarkers" (for example, changes in the composition of cerebrospinal fluid or in brain volume).

    Short-term memory loss is an important indication of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Persons with MCI may find it difficult to recall what they did the day before, may frequently lose their train of thought, and/or may feel challenged when trying to find their way around places that are actually familiar to them. These traits may also be accompanied by depression, anxiety, or uncharacteristic irritation and aggression. MCI does not necessarily progress to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and persons with MCI often can function in a satisfactory manner despite some minor degree of memory loss.

    The study involved more than 500 subjects, as follows:

  • 116 with MCI who developed Alzheimer’s within two years;
  • 201 with MCI who did not develop Alzheimer’s;
  • 197 with no cognitive problems.
  • The methods undertaken included:

  • Conducting measures of delayed memory;
  • Analyzing cerebrospinal fluid samples collected at baseline and then annually for two years;
  • Analyzing blood samples collected at baseline for genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Assessing brain volume and cortical thickness through the use of magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Findings included the following:

  • The presence of MCI at baseline was a stronger predictor of Alzheimer’s disease than were most of the biomarkers;
  • Two measures of delayed memory — as well as the cortical thickness of the left middle temporal lobe — were linked with a higher risk of MCI developing into Alzheimer’s disease.
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    Vitamin E has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

    Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

    In a 6 year Swedish study of 232 participants, all 80 years old or more, those with higher blood levels of vitamin E components had a greatly reduced risk, 45% to 54%, of developing Alzheimer’s. Please click here to see a ScienceDaily report or below for a brief video presentation from HealthDay.

     

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    A Neuroscientist on SFA’s Brain Fitness Program

    Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    The American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) is pleased to offer special back-to-school savings on our Brain Fitness for Older Adults professional education program. Details on this time-limited opportunity are provided below. But first, here are the comments of two recent expert reviewers of the program:

  • Neuroscientist Dr. Ryan McKim: "Cognitive fitness and physical fitness are a natural fit. Drawing on recent neuroscientific research, the SFA has designed a thoughtful and progressive training program for senior fitness professionals interested in integrating cognitive fitness exercises into their existing physical activity programs. This powerful combination has the potential to make a significant impact on the health and well-being of older adults." Dr. McKim continues: "Recent advances in neuroscience are drawing long overdue attention to the importance of cognitive health. The SFA has designed an impressive and well-researched training program for senior fitness professionals."
  • Gerontologist Dr. Kathryn Thomas: "The SFA brain fitness materials gracefully strike the balance between rigorous research and practical, actionable information. The materials synthesize an enormous amount of research in a way that is manageable and enjoyable for the reader. I highly recommend the program to anyone wanting to get up to speed and actively involved in the brain fitness movement."
  • Ryan McKim, PsyD, is a clinical neuropsychologist specializing in the assessment of memory and cognitive rehabilitation. At San Francisco’s VA Medical Center, he is investigating neuroplasticity and developing novel strategies for veterans with traumatic brain injuries. Dr. McKim teaches neuropsychological assessment at the California Institute of Integral Studies and is vice president of research & outcomes at NeoCORTA Proactive Brain Fitness.

    Kathryn Thomas, PhD, is a gerontologist whose research has been published in peer reviewed journals and presented at national conferences. Dr. Thomas is an adjunct professor at Georgia State University’s Gerontology Institute and is director of business development at NeoCORTA.

    Call 888-689-6791 to take advantage of special savings on SFA’s Brain Fitness for Older Adults professional education program during our back-to-school event ending September 17, 2010. SFA office hours are 10:00 am to 5:00 pm ET weekdays. For ordering information, click on Special Savings. Be sure to sign in to receive your member discounts.

    SFA, winner of the National Council on Aging’s Best Practice Award for professional education programs, can help you expand your older adult health-fitness services. For details about SFA’s Brain Fitness for Older Adults distance learning course — including selected excerpts from the text — click on Become a Cognitive Fitness Facilitator.

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    Senior Cognitive Health in 2010

    Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    SFA president Janie Clark, MA, was interviewed earlier this year by Sandra Dias for her article Cognitive Fitness which appeared in Health Center Today, a publication of the University of Connecticut Health Center. Discussing two of many variables that can affect mental fitness, Clark said, "There is a connection between stress and depression and the state of one’s cognitive health. We teach the instructors and trainers how to integrate stress management and relaxation techniques into their classes." SFA helps health-fitness professionals guide their clients through a lifestyle approach to improving cognitive fitness. On a personal note, Clark added, "My own mom has dementia and we want to do what we can to prevent ourselves and our kids from going through that."

    Others interviewed for the article included George Kuchel, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and director of the UConn Center on Aging. One of the greatest boosters of cognitive reserve, he said, is lifetime education. As Dr. Kuchel explained and Dias reported: "Intellectual stimulation throughout life is now believed to build brain cells and improve connections between them. It appears that education acts as a buffer against cognitive declines associated with aging, as well as pathological changes." He said it is never too late to challenge the brain and that, in fact, it is critical.

    In other news, while most Experience! readers are aware of the recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) expert panel report on preventing Alzheimer’s disease, broad access to thoughtful analysis of the project has been lacking. The independent NIH review did not find that specific interventions are proven to forestall the disease and, subsequently, some oversimplified interpretations of the endeavor have emerged in the media. Countering that course, we recommend examining useful commentary on the topic by Alvaro Fernandez of SharpBrains. Writing for the American Society on Aging (ASA), he cautions against drawing simplistic conclusions. For example, he asks and answers: "… does this mean that all recent news on the brain benefits of aerobic exercise are somehow unscientific? No, it doesn’t mean that." Elaborating, Fernandez notes that "… perhaps the most important take-away [is that] preventing Alzheimers … is a different outcome from improving cognitive fitness which, I would argue, is what most people care about …" To read this nuanced treatment of the matter in its entirety, click on ASA Article 1 and ASA Article 2. These links will open as PDFs.

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    Earlier Alzheimer’s Detection

    Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    The tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease is exacerbated by tardy detection, especially since newly developed medications work better when started early. This problem inspired Dr. Douglas Scharre, a neurologist at the Ohio State University (OSU) Medical Center, to design a quick and simple test to help determine if someone is exhibiting the early memory and reasoning deficits that all too often foretell the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

    In an OSU press release, Dr. Scharre (who specializes in treating Alzheimer’s) said it is often more than three or four years after symptoms of cognitive impairment first begin to appear before he sees affected patients. "People don’t come in early enough for a diagnosis, or families generally resist making the appointment because they don’t want confirmation of their worst fears," he said.

    Scharre’s test is called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE). Research shows that 80 percent of persons with mild thinking and memory issues will be detected by the test, and 95 percent of those with normal thinking will achieve normal SAGE scores.

    While other accurate assessment instruments for cognitive disorders are presently in use, SAGE offers a number of advantages. Available cost-free to health workers, it only requires a paper, pen and about 15 minutes to self-administer. Therefore, it can be taken in the waiting room before seeing one’s doctor, doesn’t take much time away from medical staff or from the appointment itself, and is user-friendly for elders who are not comfortable with computers.

    Abnormal scores can alert physicians to look for problems other than dementia, such as certain thyroid conditions, that can affect memory — and that may be treatable and reversible. Dr. Scharre added: "Abnormal test results can serve as an early warning to the patient’s family. The results can be a signal that caregivers may need to begin closer monitoring of the patient to ensure their safety and good health is not compromised and that they are protected from financial predators."

    To read the full OSU press release about SAGE, click here. Healthcare personnel can download the actual test free of charge at www.sagetest.osu.edu.

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    Sharing Caring

    Monday, April 19th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (online) has verified what many in the elder care field have always "known": Persons with memory loss feel emotions related to their sad or happy experiences and retain those feelings even after their memory of the actual event has faded.

    When researchers at the University of Iowa showed sad and happy movie clips to patients with memory loss, they found that although the patients could not recall what they had watched, they did continue to feel the emotions prompted by the clips.

    In a news release, lead author Justin Feinstein said, "… both emotions [sad and happy] lasted well beyond [the subject's] memory of the films." He continued, "A simple visit or phone call from family members might have a lingering positive influence on a patient’s happiness even though the patient may quickly forget the visit or phone call. On the other hand, routine neglect from staff at nursing homes may leave the patient feeling sad, frustrated, and lonely even though the patient can’t remember why."

    "Intuitively, I’ve always known this due to my experience as the activity director of an adult day-care center with an Alzheimer’s unit and from my work as a nursing home exercise provider," said SFA president Janie Clark, MA, who was not involved in the study. "But it is very good to see it confirmed through research."

    Feinstein wrote, "Here is clear evidence showing that the reasons for treating Alzheimer’s patients with respect and dignity go beyond simple human morals."

    Clark added, "Even when elders have lost much long- and short-term memory, they still know when they’re receiving kindness and loving attention."

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