Dementia in the News

Scientists have made an exciting breakthrough in unraveling the genetic basis of two debilitating neurodegenerative disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Two independent studies, published online this week by Cell Press in the journal Neuron, identify a new human genetic mutation as the most common cause of ALS and FTD identified to date. This mutation explains at least a third of all familial cases of ALS and FTD within the European population.

As her mother's Alzheimer's worsened over eight long years, so did Doreen Alfaro's bills:  The walker, then the wheelchair, then the hospital bed, then the diapers - and the caregivers hired for more and more hours a day so Alfaro could go to work and her elderly father could get some rest.

Alfaro and her husband sold their California house to raise money for her mother's final at-home care. Six years later, the 58-year-old Alfaro wonders if she eventually develops Alzheimer's, too, "what happens to my care? Where will I go?"

Recognizing that an increasing number of college students may be facing Alzheimer's disease in their own families or are looking to get involved in a worthy cause, the Alzheimer's Foundation of American (AFA) has unveiled a unique network for college students --- AFA on Campus.

Interim findings from the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network study provide encouraging insights about the potential for preclinical detection of Alzheimer's disease and are setting the stage for prevention trials to begin as early as 2012.

Specifically, the findings from the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) suggest that measurable changes in brain chemistry are apparent at up to 20 or more years before the onset of dementia in Alzheimer's disease patients, DIAN investigators reported at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference.

In any discussion here about the decision to move an older person into some sort of care facility, we can virtually count on a denunciation in the comments section, often from someone citing immigrant roots. Americans are too self-centered, too careerist, goes the criticism.

“I come originally from Argentina and in my culture we respect and honor the elderly and consider it disgraceful and selfish to put a parent in a nursing home,” Maria Gonzalez from Cleveland wrote last spring.

The brains of our closest relatives, unlike our own, do not shrink with age.

The findings suggest that humans are more vulnerable than chimpanzees to age-related diseases because we live relatively longer.

Our longer lifespan is probably an adaptation to having bigger brains, the team suggests in their Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper.

Old age, the results indicate, has evolved to help meet the demands of raising smarter babies.

Alzheimer's is the second-most feared disease after cancer and many people say they would seek testing for themselves or a loved one even if they did not have symptoms, U.S. and European researchers said on Wednesday.

The findings, presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Paris on Wednesday, reflect concern about the swelling ranks of people with the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer's now affects nearly 36 million people worldwide.

New research reported today in Paris at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2011 (AAIC 2011) offers insight on the global incidence and prevalence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) - a condition involving problems with memory or another mental function severe enough to be noticeable to the affected person or to others but not serious enough to interfere with daily life. The research also identifies the conditions that most accurately predict progression from MCI to Alzheimer's disease.

For many years, an autopsy done by a pathologist was considered the best way to confirm the presence of Alzheimer's disease. But new guidelines proposed on Sunday by the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association seek to distinguish between memory changes or dementia diagnosed by doctors when people are alive, and the changes pathologists can see in an autopsy.

On one ridge stand scientists clutching discoveries rich with possibility; along another are physicians reaching for therapies to alleviate their patients' suffering. Between them runs an abyss, its floor strewn with abandoned drug candidates and failed clinical trials.

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