Dementia in the News

Using a little creativity and a lot of new technology, Mass General researchers have created a new generation of brain mapping images that promises to open the door to understanding and treating brain disorders.

Neurologist Bruce Miller calls tau—a floppy, free-form protein—“the holy grail of dementia.” That designation may come as a surprise to anyone who has even a passing interest in the science of end-of-life brain diseases. A different protein, amyloid-beta (Aß), has become famous as the culprit responsible for the so-called senile plaques that gum up the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

 As if people reaching their middle years didn't have enough to keep them awake at night—mortgage payments, job demands, the angst of teenage children - a study by French and British researchers last year concluded that our brains start to decline around age 45, smack in the prime of middle age.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health and numerous biopharmaceutical companies and disease foundations have teamed up on an unusual project to find and bring new medicines to patients faster.

Known for decades as patient H.M., Henry Molaison was familiar, indeed dear, to neuroscientists. In 1953, epilepsy surgery to remove a tiny part of his brain left him forever unable to acquire new facts and store them.

In China, there are only about 300 qualified physicians to treat more than 9 million dementia sufferers. The shortage is overwhelming families and threatening resources from an already stretched welfare system as the country ages.

Ten years after a training program was completed, certain cognitive abilities were still improved in older adults, according to a new report. The findings suggest that cognitive interventions could help older people remain independent for longer.

To test whether training could improve the cognitive abilities of older adults, healthy seniors were recruited from 6 cities between March 1998 and October 1999. The participants averaged 74 years of age and 14 years of education at the beginning of the study; 76% were female, 74% were white, and 26% were African-American.

The average life expectancy in the United States has fallen behind that of other industrialized nations as the American income gap has widened. In addition, better health habits, including those involving weight control, nutrition, and exercise, clearly influence the effects of aging among segments of the U.S. population.

For years, neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai has been unraveling the brain circuits that underlie memory, searching for approaches that might be helpful in treating Alzheimer’s disease. In 2007, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist identified an experimental drug that could restore lost memories in mice. Lately, she has been wondering whether that kind of drug might be useful to help people forget traumatic events that cause fear and anxiety.

Two thick blankets wrapped in a cloth tie lay near a single pillow on the red leather sofa in Phuong Lu’s living room. Doanh Nguyen, Ms. Lu’s 81-year-old mother, had prepared the blankets for a trip she wanted to take. “She’s ready to go to Vietnam,” Ms. Lu said.

But Ms. Nguyen would not be leaving. The doors were all locked from the inside to prevent her from going anywhere — not to the coating of snow that had fallen that day outside Ms. Lu’s suburban Philadelphia home, and certainly not to her home country, Vietnam.

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