Dementia in the News

Scientists have known for decades that people with Down syndrome were at increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, but they didn't know why. Some researchers now believe that understanding the connection between the two conditions might help us unravel the Alzheimer's puzzle and point towards therapies that might slow, or even halt, the dreaded disease.

In the summer of 2006 Harvard professor emerita Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz, '44, RI'69 - long revered for her work on the history of public health and for promoting women at Harvard (she was among the earliest full female professors and the first female House master) - called her daughter, baffled. "She was having trouble making a salad," recalls Debby Rosenkrantz. Was it a case of low blood sugar, or maybe related to a recent arm rash? "I came over with some orange juice and helped her finish making the dinner."

Massachusetts nursing homes that advertise specialized Alzheimer's and dementia care units will be required to provide workers with at least eight hours of initial training to care for such residents, and four additional hours annually, under proposed rules unveiled Wednesday by state regulators.

The rules would also required all licensed nursing homes, and not just those with special dementia units, to provide dementia-specific training for all direct-care workers, which include medical directors, nurses, social workers, dietary aides, therapists and activities staff.

There are many reasons to keep your blood sugar under control:  Protecting your arteries and nerves are two of them. Here's another biggie: Preventing dementia, the loss of memory and thinking skills that afflicts millions of older Americans.

Some people with Alzheimer's disease - characterized by a loss of brain tissue - have trouble sleeping and/or nighttime wandering.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests how to improve sleep in people with Alzheimer's:

- Make sure the sleep environment is as cool and dark as possible

- Create a consistent schedule of waking and going to bed

- Expose the person with Alzheimer's to bright light soon after waking

- As bedtime nears, keep lighting dim

- Establish regular and simple routines to complete daily chores

When high school Spanish teacher Joyce Botti started complaining about memory problems a few years ago, doctors dismissed her concerns as normal signs of aging.

But new research being presented Wednesday at an international Alzheimer's conference suggests that Botti's worries - like those of others suffering so-called "senior moments" - could be the earliest indicators of devastating brain disease.

A new study has found that dementia rates among people 65 and older in England and Wales have plummeted by 25 percent over the past two decades, to 6.2 percent from 8.3 percent, the strongest evidence yet of a trend some experts had hoped would materialize.

Scientists may have uncovered a key mechanism involved in the brain degeneration seen in conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

Several neurological disorders are marked by proteins that aggregate, or accumulate in the brain. Normal proteins may become insoluble and clump together when they sporadically "misfold" and change shape. One protein, called tau, clumps into the twisted threads known as tangles that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Alpha-synuclein clumps to form the Lewy bodies associated with Parkinson's disease.

Clemens Scherzer is caught between centuries. As a researcher-clinician, and one of three co-directors of the Harvard Biomarker Study, he spends much of the time with his eyes firmly on the future - personalised medicine for people with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. But he is also a practicing neurologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, MA, and as such has weekly reminders of just how urgent the need for progress is.

Reisa Sperling remembers her grandfather as the robust, genial patriarch of her family. When she was young, he took her ballroom dancing and deep-sea fishing. But as he entered his seventies he became irritable and short-tempered, worried about money, and suspicious of Sperling's father and aunt, whom he accused of stealing from him. Always a dapper dresser, he began to leave his house looking dishevelled. Soon, he couldn't dress himself at all, and he eventually forgot how to use a fork and knife.

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