Dementia in the News

Under the microscope, the tan image with brown splotches resembles a burned map, its edges singed and riddled with dark squiggles that shouldn't be there. This is a piece of brain from a 45-year-old man:  Former National Football League linebacker John Grimsley, who suited up for the Houston Oilers for nine years and absorbed at least 11 concussions during professional and college play.

Bringing together two esteemed institutions known for groundbreaking Alzheimer's research, Cure Alzheimer's Fund has awarded the University of Pittsburgh a $300,00 grant and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard (MGH) a $100,000 grant to fund an innovative joint research project on Alzheimer's disease, which currently affects 5.3 billion Americans and their families.

Back in the 1980s, it was becoming evident that Alzheimer's disease was an imposing challenge whose weight on health and society was just beginning to be felt. As people began to live longer and the U.S. population began to age, more and more people were finding themselves on the receiving end of a diagnosis of this slow but deadly neurodegenerative disease.

Not only do women live longer than men, on average, but a new study from the Mayo Clinic suggests they also may keep their cognitive function longer, too.

In a study of more than 2,000 adults 70 to 89 years old, researchers found that men were 1.5 times more likely to experience mild cognitive decline than their female counterparts.

The vaulted protection that intellectually active adults get from Alzheimer's disease has a dark downside, a study released Wednesday has found. Once dementia symptoms become evident and Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed in such patients, their mental decline can come with frightening speed.

In a year when news about Alzheimer's disease seems to whipsaw between encouraging and disheartening, a new discovery by an 84-year-old scientist has illuminated a new direction.

The scientist, Paul Greengard, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2000 for his work on signaling in brain cells, still works in his Rockefellar University lab in New York City seven days a week, walking there from his apartment two blocks away, taking his aging Bernese mountain dog, Alpha.

When Henry McCance started at Greylock Partners in 1969, the venture capital industry had less than $100 million flowing into it each year, he estimates. Now, it's roughly a $20 billiion-a-year sector of the financial world that has backed companies whose products are, in many cases, staples of modern living.

Five years ago, McCance, now Greylock's chairman emeritus, started a nonprofit research foundation called the Cure Alzheimer's Fund.

The scene was a kind of science court. On trial was the question “Can anything - running on a treadmill, eating more spinach, learning Arabic - prevent Alzheimer's disease or delay its progression?”

To try to answer that question, the National Institutes of Health sponsored the court, appointing a jury of 15 medical scientists with no vested interests in Alzheimer’s research. They would hear the evidence and reach a judgment on what the data showed.

Many doctors already suspect there may be a link between surgery and the onset of Alzheimer's.

Previous studies have suggested that between 10 and 30 percent of elderly people who undergo surgery suffer memory problems afterwards, but it has not been established whether these are a short-term response to physical trauma, or the beginnings of dementia.

Cognitive problems, ranging from memory loss to delirium, have been found most commonly when elderly people have undergone heart surgery, but also following other operations.

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