Dementia in the News

A smile crosses Bob Blackwell's face as he gently lifts his camera to his eye and zooms in on a black-and-yellow swallowtail butterfly hovering near the same flower as a yellow finch.

A little while later, Blackwell, 66, rests in the shade of a gazebo at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, VA., where he enjoyed a balmy late summer morning recently, snapping images of nature.

When Diane Thornton first realized she was having trouble keeping track of appointments, she would write herself reminder notes. When she got lost on her way to the office, she'd call her secretary and ask for directions. On days she had trouble speaking or remembering words, she would avoid answering her phone.

Alzheimer's sufferers who catch a cold or a stomach bug need to be treated as soon as possible to prevent it worsening their dementia, new research has suggested.

A study by scientists at the University of Southampton found a link between the infections and an increase in inflammation-like reactions in the brain, which led to an increased rate of cognitive decline.

New research suggests that a cancer drug might be able to restore day-to-day memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

The disease, the most common form of dementia among the elderly, is expected to afflict 120 million people worldwide by 2050. Often the first sign is loss of short-term memory.

Two European research teams have identified three genes that affect a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia in the elderly.

The new genes appear to have at least as big a role as four others discovered in the last 15 years that are known to play a role in Alzheimer's.

"The message here is that genes are important in Alzheimer's disease...and there may be multiple ways of reducing the risk that the genes produce," said Julie Williams, a neuroscientist at Cardiff University in Wales who helped lead one of the teams.

One of the many tragedies of Alzheimer's disease is that patients don't know until it's too late that they actually have the condition. By the time the first signs of forgefulness and confusion set in, experts believe, the disease has already been ravaging the brain for a decade or more, causing irreversible damage.

For every excess pound piled on the body, the brain gets a little smaller.

That's the message from new research that found that elderly individuals who were obese or overweight had significantly less brain tissue than individuals of normal weight.

"The brains of obese people looked 16 years older than their healthy counterparts while [those of] overweight people looked 8 years older," said UCLA neuroscientist Paul Thompson, senior author of a study published online in Human Brain Mapping.

At the age of 46, Jay Jones started to change.

The owner of a $20 million yacht dealership and married for only two years to his wife, Laura, Jones noticed subtle differences. His wife began noticing them, too.

"The beginning was the personality changes," Laura Jones said. "He was more agitated. He was more nervous and then getting lost."

Donna Agnew loves her job, which is a good thing, because the way the economy is gasping, the 64-year-old Boston art gallery owner says she may not be able to afford retirement for the foreseeable future.

She is hardly alone.

With 401(k)s looking more like 201(s)s these days, many baby boomers are putting off retirement to rebuild decimated nest eggs. But amid such uncertainty there may be hope:  A number of studies suggest that staying mentally and socially active may help starve off dementia and other dreaded declines associated with aging.

A genetic test that can find an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease does no psychological harm to people who take it, even if they test positive for a risky gene, a new study finds.

The results challenge views long held by the medical establishment, which has discouraged poeple from being tested, arguing that the test is not definitive, that it may needlessly frighten people into thinking a terrible disease is hanging over them and that testing is pointless anyway because there is no way to cure or prevent the dementia caused by Alzheimer's.

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