Dementia in the News

Rudolph E. Tanzi, director of the genetics and aging research unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and a towering figure in the field of Alzheimer’s research, refuses to play the piano. Yes, he’s an exuberantly dedicated musician who seriously considered a musical career before going into science. He’s played keyboards with the rock band Aerosmith and jammed on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” He practices every day at home on his handmade Bösendorfer concert grand.

Health care costs can rise dramatically as we age - especially for those who develop long-term conditions like heart disease or dementia. In the United States, most medical costs for people over age 65 are covered by Medicare, a federal health insurance program. But Medicare and other insurers may not cover key expenses, like home care services, medical equipment, and certain nursing home fees. Little has been known about the personal financial toll that end-of-life care can place on people with chronic disorders.

The National Institutes of Health has launched a new initiative to identify biomarkers and track the progression of Alzheimer’s in people with Down syndrome. Many people with Down syndrome have Alzheimer’s-related brain changes in their 30s that can lead to dementia in their 50s and 60s. Little is known about how the disease progresses in this vulnerable group.

While he couldn't possibly have known, Sandy Halperin was likely around 35 years old when his brain began slowly accumulating the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer's disease.

Building on earlier work in which they disproved neurobiology dogma by “reprogramming” neurons - turning one form of neuron into another - in the brains of living animals, Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers have now shown that the networks of communication among reprogrammed neurons and their neighbors can also be changed, or “rewired.”

magine the modern-day reaction to a news story about a man surviving a three-foot, 17-inch, 13½-pound iron bar being blown through his skull - taking a chunk of his brain with it.

Then imagine that this happened in 1848, long before modern medicine and neuroscience. That was the case of Phineas Gage.

Whether the Vermont construction foreman, who was laying railroad track and using explosives at the time of the industrial accident, was lucky or unlucky is a judgment that Warren Anatomical Museum curator Dominic Hall puzzles over to this day.

Imagine you are looking for your wallet on a cluttered desk. As you scan the area, you hold in your mind a mental picture of what your wallet looks like.

MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain region that stores this type of visual representation during a search. The researchers also found that this region sends signals to the parts of the brain that control eye movements, telling individuals where to look next.

Reisa Sperling, HMS professor of neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, shares her family's personal connection with Alzheimer's disease and describes ongoing research into early diagnosis and intervention.

And in this episode's abstract, researchers in the lab of George Church use the gene-editing tool CRISPR to inactivate retroviruses in the pig genome with the hope of one day making organs safer for transplant into humans.

In the last five years of life, total health care spending for people with dementia was more than a quarter-million dollars per person, some 57 percent greater than costs associated with death from other diseases, including cancer and heart disease. The new analysis, appearing in the Oct. 27, 2015, online issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, estimates that total health care spending was $287,000 for those with probable dementia and $183,000 for other Medicare beneficiaries in the study.

Alzheimer’s researchers have uncovered a surprising clue linked to whether someone is likely to develop the disease later in life. A study published in the latest issue of Science finds that the brains of people at greatest genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s show less activity in a network of neurons that serve as our internal navigation system – known as “grid cells.”

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