Dementia in the News

Add another notch to the evidence that an unhealthy heart can harm the brain. In the September 21 JAMA Neurology, researchers led by M. Arfan Ikram of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, report that having atrial fibrillation, a common cardiovascular disease in older adults, was associated with an elevated risk of developing dementia over the next 20 years.

Fibrous protein clumps known as amyloids are most often associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, where they form characteristic plaques in the brain.

Scientists first described amyloids about 150 years ago; they have since been tagged as key players in Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as Alzheimer’s. However, recent findings suggest that this class of proteins may also have critical biological functions in healthy cells.

We talk a lot these days about what constitutes a good way to die. There’s also much discussion about the art of healthy aging.

But largely absent from the conversation are all the people between the two. People who aren’t dying but who grow more frail. People who have significant health concerns. People who suddenly find themselves in need of care.

People who are, by and large, miserable.

"Is it Alzheimer's?" That's the common first question whispered by people who see their parents develop confusion, garbled speech and loss of memory. A fair concern, since Alzheimer's is at the root of 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases. A frequent second question: "Will I get it, too?"

Vitamin D is a controversial topic among doctors, mainly because studies about its health effects have been so conflicting. While vitamin D is critical for many body systems, including bones and the brain, recent studies that have tested these assumptions haven’t been reassuring. In March, for example, a large study found that vitamin D supplements did not lower the risk of falls, or their resulting injuries, in the elderly.

If you ask people what is it about aging that concerns them most, you’ll likely hear a lot about financial security and heart disease, but increasingly, worries about brain health and cognitive decline are right up there in importance. And it’s not just seniors.

In the Brain Health Research Study published by the AARP in 2014, 41 percent of adults aged 34 to 49 ranked brain health as the most important component in their overall health.

Prions are the misshapen proteins that replicate by inducing normal proteins to misfold and aggregate in the brain, leading to rare diseases such as mad cow and kuru. In recent years, scientists have discovered that similar processes of protein misfolding are at work in many neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now, a study in Nature reveals the first evidence for human-to-human transmission of the misfolded proteins that underlie the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.

At the age of 93, Olga Kotelko - one of the most successful and acclaimed nonagenarian track-and-field athletes in history - traveled to the University of Illinois to let scientists study her brain.

Ms. Kotelko held a number of world records and had won hundreds of gold medals in masters events. But she was of particular interest to the scientific community because she hadn’t begun serious athletic training until age 77. So scanning her brain could potentially show scientists what late-life exercise might do for brains.

Middle-aged Americans have one more reason to keep an eye on the scale as they age: research shows that people who are overweight when they are 50 years old may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s sooner than those that are a healthy weight.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health studied midlife obesity’s connection to Alzheimer’s and announced in a study published Tuesday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry that they had found a connection between being overweight or obese in middle age and developing Alzheimer’s.

With the growing use of biomarkers, researchers can now identify cognitively normal people who are at elevated risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This has enabled secondary prevention studies such as the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s Disease (A4) trial. To participate in this type of study, however, people typically need to learn about their risk factors. It is not feasible to keep participants blinded on this point, as that would necessitate including many more people, ballooning the cost of these already-expensive undertakings, researchers said.

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