Dementia in the News

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.

Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia comparing with veterans who don't have the disorder, a study reports today.

Using data from the Department of Veterans Affairs National Patient Care Database, scientists from the University of California-San Francisco analyzed files of 181,093 veterans ages 55 and older without dementia from 1997 to 2000. The mean age at the start of the study was 68, and 97% were male.

Middle-aged adults who live alone are twice as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease later in life compared to those who are married or live with a partner. And the risk is three times higher among those who are divorced or widowed, according to a new study by Swedish and Finnish researchers.

The study included 2,000 men and women in Finland who were initially surveyed when they were 50 years old and again 21 years later.

In our house, we talk a lot about long-term care. My dad is 92 and afflicted by dementia and failing eyesight.

Luckily, I'm blessed with three wonderful siblings who do the hard work of caring for my father and making sure he can stay in his own home in suburban Detriot. But my visits from Brooklyn to spell my siblings are becoming increasingly complex, as my father needs more care and loses track of exactly who I am.

The patients were on the loose again, moving their shrunken frames through the nursing home's shadowy halls, chattering and giggling like children sneaking out of camp. 

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