Dementia in the News

The population of older Americans is growing faster than ever and living longer than ever, but not as long as in much of Europe and elsewhere in the developed world, according to “Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being,” a report compiled by 15 federal agencies.

The full report, with tables detailing senior demographics, economics, health status, health risks and health care, is available at agingstats.gov. It contains a number of surprises, and raises a number of questions, for those interested in how Americans are aging.

Marilyn Maldonado is not quite sure why she is at the Memory Enhancement Center in the seaside town of Oakhurst, N.J.

“What are we waiting for?” she asks. About 10 minutes later, she asks again. Then she asks again.

She is waiting to enter a new type of Alzheimer's drug study that will, in the boldest effort yet, test the leading hypothesis about how to slow or stop this terrifying brain disease.

For the first time in 25 years, medical experts are proposing a major change in the criteria for Alzheimer's disease, part of a new movement to diagnose and, eventually, treat the disease earlier.

The new diagnostic guidelines, presented Tuesday at an international Alzheimer’s meeting in Hawaii, would mean that new technology like brain scans would be used to detect the disease even before there are evident memory problems or other symptoms.

Racial and cultural differences may impact how early people with dementia are diagnosed, the type of care they receive and how long they live - and they even impact the way families of Alzheimer's patients deal with grief when their loved ones dies, according to several new studies.

Research presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Monday suggests more culturally-tailored resources could benefit African Americans, Latinos and other minority groups.

The link between depression and dementia has always been unclear, but a new study supports the theory that depression increases dementia risk.

The findings, published in the journal Neurology, are based on nearly 1,000 people who were studied for up to 17 years. Researchers evaluated them for depression and dementia using standard clinical tests. Those who were depressed when first examined almost doubled their risk for dementia and also increased their risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Five months shy of his 100th birthday, Louis Charpentier still rises every day at 9 a.m. to spend hours in his basement shop in suburban Leominster, carving delicate wooden figurines. Years after most people’s bodies and minds have failed, Charpentier climbs stairs with ease and recalls everything from the latest episode of “Dr. Phil’’ to the first train he ever saw, carrying soldiers who fought in World War I.

For years, scientists have been fascinated by biological outliers such as Charpentier as they seek to unlock the secrets of longevity.

In 1966, as a visiting medical student at a London teaching hospital, I interviewed a husband and wife, in their early twenties, who had recently experienced a truly calamitous health catastrophe. On their wedding night, in their first experience of sexual intercourse, a malformed blood vessel in the husband's brain burst, leaving him with a disabling paralysis of the right side of his body. Stunned and guilt-ridden, the couple clutched hands and cried silently as they shared their suffering with me.

The health needs of tens of millions of aging baby boomers threaten to overwhelm the nation's hospitals and caregivers within a decade or two, but the geriatric tidal wave does not appear to have been fully recognized at the National Institutes of Health.

With a nudge from the new health care law and pressure from Medicare, hospitals, doctors and nurses are struggling to prepare for explosive growth in the numbers of high-risk elderly patients.

More than 40 percent of adult patients in acute care hospital beds are 65 or older. Severly million Americans will have turned 65 by 2030. They include the 85-and-older cohort, the nation's fastest-growing age group.

Dr. Daniel Skovronsky sat a small round table in his corner office, laptop open, waiting for an email meesage. His right leg jiggled nervously.

A few minutes later, the message arrived - results that showed his tiny start-up company might have overcome one of the biggest obstacles in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease. It had found a dye and a brain scan that, he said, can show the hallmark plaque building up in the brains of people with the disease.

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