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May 1

By Traci Pedersen

Scientists have identified 43 genes associated with risk for both autism and cancer. This discovery could lead to the development of treatments for both conditions if the underlying mechanisms behind these genes are the same, according to a new study by the University of California (UC) Davis MIND Institute and Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“This striking coincidence of a remarkably large number of genes implicated in both autism spectrum disorder and cancers has not been previously highlighted in the scientific literature,” said Jacqueline Crawley, MIND Institute distinguished professor and endowed chair.

“Potentially common biological mechanisms suggest that it may be possible to repurpose drug treatments for cancer as potential therapeutics for neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Crawley collaborated on the work with professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Wolf-Dietrich Heyer, who is affiliated with the Cancer Center and Janine LaSalle, professor of medical microbiology and immunology, who is associated with the MIND Institute.

“It may be possible to repurpose available cancer drugs with reasonable safety profiles as targeted treatments for ASD,” the authors write in the journal Trends in Genetics.

“Stratifying individuals with ASD who harbor a risk gene for autism that is also a risk gene for cancer may enable therapeutic development of personalized medicines based on the specific causal mutation.”

Included in the dozens of genes implicated in both cancer and autism are genes for relatively rare syndromes, such as Rett syndrome and tuberous sclerosis, in which patients experience a wide variety of physical and neurological symptoms, including intellectual disability, as well as some of the communication deficits often found in autism.

So what does tumor cell growth have in common with synapse formation and brain development?

“Errors associated with genome maintenance during fetal life may occur at critical time periods for [brain development] resulting in neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Heyer, “whereas errors more commonly occur during adult life in cell types susceptible to tumors.”

Considerable value can be gained from a new focus on understanding the genetic commonalities of autisms and cancers. The authors note that since autism encompasses a broad range of causes, symptoms, and outcomes — similar to different types of cancers — it is also referred to in the plural, as “autisms.”

The study, titled “Autism and Cancer Shared Risk Genes, Pathways and Drug Targets,” is published online in Trends in Genetics, a Cell Symposia publication.

Source: UC Davis Health System

Apr 23

By Rick Nauert PhD

Need help in remembering a difficult concept? A solution may literally be at your fingertips as new research suggests drawing pictures of information that needs to be remembered enhances memory.

“We pitted drawing against a number of other known encoding strategies, but drawing always came out on top,” said the study’s lead author, Jeffrey Wammes, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo.

“We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor, and semantic information.”

In the study, researchers presented student participants with a list of simple, easily drawn words, such as “apple.” The students were given 40 seconds to either draw the word, or write it out repeatedly. They were then given a filler task of classifying musical tones to facilitate the retention process.

Finally, the researchers asked students to freely recall as many words as possible from the initial list in just 60 seconds.

“We discovered a significant recall advantage for words that were drawn as compared to those that were written,” said Wammes.

“Participants often recalled more than twice as many drawn than written words. We labelled this benefit ‘the drawing effect,’ which refers to this distinct advantage of drawing words relative to writing them out.”

Drawing the words or concepts, however crudely appears to be the best method for retention.

In variations of the experiment in which students drew the words repeatedly, or added visual details to the written letters, such as shading or other doodles, the results remained unchanged.

Memory for drawn words was superior to all other alternatives. Drawing led to better later memory performance than listing physical characteristics, creating mental images, and viewing pictures of the objects depicted by the words.

“Importantly, the quality of the drawings people made did not seem to matter, suggesting that everyone could benefit from this memory strategy, regardless of their artistic talent. In line with this, we showed that people still gained a huge advantage in later memory, even when they had just four seconds to draw their picture,” said Wammes.

While the drawing effect proved reliable in testing, the experiments were conducted with single words only. Wammes and his team are currently trying to determine why this memory benefit is so potent, and how widely it can be applied to other types of information.

Mar 4

Alzheimer’s Risk: Do You Want to Know?


By Matt McMillen , Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH
If a test could tell whether you’ll get Alzheimer’s disease someday, would you want to know? And if so, what would you do with that knowledge?

These questions are becoming more and more important as researchers close in on tools to predict your risk of Alzheimer’s disease decades before symptoms start to appear.

“Primary care physicians, in the disease’s early stages, [eventually] could be able to say, ‘It looks like there’s a problem here’ through a blood test, a saliva test, or by looking at the retina,” says Dean Hartley, PhD, director of science initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. “But there’s no medical test now. It’s all in the research stage.”

For now, only genetic tests are available to the general public. They can spot genes linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, such as the ApoE4 gene. But genetic tests aren’t conclusive. Not everyone whose test result says they have ApoE4 will get Alzheimer’s, and many people who don’t have that gene will get the disease.

And if you have the gene, there isn’t much you can do yet, aside from making lifestyle changes that may be preventive. “You can get the ApoE4 test at your doctor’s office, but I and many of my colleagues rarely offer it, because we don’t have any treatments to offer if we determine that patients are at higher risk,” says Alzheimer’s researcher Liana Apostolova, MD, a professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Also, knowing your risk could come with a price. Seven years ago, Jamie Tyrone learned unexpectedly that she had two copies of the ApoE4 gene.

“I went into a deep, dark hole,” says Tyrone, 55, a former nurse who lives in San Diego. “This information was very anxiety-provoking, to the point that I was diagnosed with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. Knowing has done me harm.”

Tyrone says Alzheimer’s was not on her radar when she was tested for a variety of genetic disorders as part of a research study. Being unprepared for the news, she says, made her anxiety worse.
Eventually she learned to cope. She started to take better care of herself, exercising and improving her diet, meditating and doing brain-twisting puzzles purported to strengthen memory and focus. And she became involved with research into the disease. She founded B.A.B.E.S., Beating Alzheimer’s By Embracing Science, a non-profit that supports research into the disease and encourages people to get involved.

Tyrone wants others to learn from her experience.

“I’m choosing to heal by talking about it,” she says. “I don’t want people to go through what I went through.”

New Ways to Detect Alzheimer’s Disease
The biggest advance toward the early prediction of Alzheimer’s, Hartley says, is using PET scans to show the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in the brain. The plaques are a risk factor for the disease, and in the past they could be seen only during an autopsy.

“This is an opportunity to see into the live brain,” Hartley says.

The FDA has approved PET amyloid imaging for use in some clinical trials and to help diagnose dementia patients, but not to predict the development of the disease — at least not yet.

“PET imaging with amyloid will be the first way of approaching prediction,” Apostolova says. MRI will also be useful, she says, as will PET imaging for tau proteins, another sign of disease.

But, she continues, amyloid PET scans are expensive, not readily available, and they expose patients to radiation.

“What if there’s another way to get at the answer of who’s at risk?” she asks.

Research Apostolova led while at UCLA resulted in a simple blood test that picks up biomarkers — or proteins in the blood — linked to Alzheimer’s. Along with other tests, it one day may help predict the disease. She published her early findings in January in the journal Neurology.

Researchers are studying several other new tests:

A saliva test that identifies biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
A combination of cognitive tests, MRI scans, and analysis of proteins found in cerebrospinal fluid — fluid in the brain and spinal cord that can predict mild cognitive impairment, or thinking problems, 5 years before symptoms become apparent.
Measurements of the protein neurogranin, a potential Alzheimer’s biomarker found in fluid in the brain and spinal cord.
Tests that uncover the deterioration of your sense of smell may indicate Alzheimer’s.
Eye exams that can measure beta amyloid buildup.
All of these tests remain experimental, and their effectiveness remains to be seen.

“Saliva tests, blood tests, and things like that are not ready for prime time,” Hartley says.
Knowing Your Risk
If you do learn your risk of Alzheimer’s — through a genetic test or, eventually, through one of these still-experimental tests — what can you do with that knowledge? And how would it affect you? After all, with no viable treatments available to slow, stop, or prevent the disease — only drugs that may improve symptoms in some people for a short time — there’s little doctors can offer you.

“Some people would want to know so they can plan things out, such as long-term care insurance and end-of-life decisions, while others would not want to know,” says David Salmon, PhD, of the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of California, San Diego. “It’s a personal decision. It’s hard to say what the best advice would be.”

Salmon’s research suggests that knowing you’re at risk can have bad consequences. You’re more likely to rate your memory worse and do worse on a memory test than someone with the same risk who is unaware.

“We don’t think it’s depression, but we didn’t measure anxiety and stress, so we don’t know if the disclosure increased anxiety and that it’s the anxiety that causes you to have memory problems,” Salmon says.

But other research suggests that knowing your genetic risk does not up your chances of depression, anxiety, or distress. Jason Karlawish, MD, an Alzheimer’s expert and medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied middle-age adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s.

If people get their mood and well-being assessed before they get tested, “they have minimal problems with mood and well-being after learning the results,” Karlawish says. “We don’t have data from persons who are older and plausibly closer in age of onset to AD.”

Karlawish is involved in a study of an experimental Alzheimer’s drug known as solanezumab. The drug, made by Eli Lilly, targets amyloid plaques and may delay the onset of cognitive decline. It is now being tested on people who don’t have Alzheimer’s symptoms but whose PET scans have shown the presence of such plaques, a potential early warning sign of the disease.
It’s among several meds that may prevent or slow Alzheimer’s from getting worse that are being studied in people long before they show symptoms.

Karlawish’s previous research suggests that that knowledge may motivate people to change their lifestyles. That’s what Tyrone eventually began to do. She has improved her diet and her exercise habits, she’s at work on a book about her experiences, and she’s become involved in Alzheimer’s research, such as studies into new medication. That’s something she highly recommends — as does Karlawish — for people who know they’re at risk.

“Yes, it’s partially selfish, because you’re getting something as well as giving something,” she says. “You’re at the forefront of cutting-edge research.”

But if you don’t yet know? “I would ask them, why do you really want to know this information? And can you make changes without knowing that information?” Tyrone asks. “It may be anxiety provoking. Is it really healthy to know this information or is not healthy? What are you going to do with it?”

WebMD Health News

Feb 7

Sleep Apnea Takes Toll on Brain


By Janice Wood
A new study shows that people with sleep apnea show significant changes in the levels of two important brain chemicals.

This could be the reason so many people with sleep apnea — a disorder in which a person’s breathing is frequently interrupted during sleep, as many as 30 times an hour — report problems with thinking, such as poor concentration, difficulty with memory and decision-making, depression and stress.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles School of Nursing looked at levels of the neurotransmitters glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, known as GABA, in a brain region called the insula. This area integrates signals from higher brain regions to regulate emotion, thinking, and physical functions, such as blood pressure and perspiration.

They found that people with sleep apnea had decreased levels of GABA and unusually high levels of glutamate.

GABA is a chemical messenger that acts as an inhibitor in the brain, which can slow things down and help keep people calm. It affects mood and helps make endorphins, researchers explain.

Glutamate, by contrast, is like an accelerator. When glutamate levels are high, the brain is working in a state of stress, and consequently doesn’t function as effectively. High levels of glutamate can also be toxic to nerves and neurons, the researchers noted.

“In previous studies, we’ve seen structural changes in the brain due to sleep apnea, but in this study we actually found substantial differences in these two chemicals that influence how the brain is working,” said Dr. Paul Macey, the lead researcher on the study and an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Nursing.

Macey said the researchers were taken aback by the differences in the GABA and glutamate levels.

“It is rare to have this size of difference in biological measures,” he said. “We expected an increase in the glutamate, because it is a chemical that causes damage in high doses and we have already seen brain damage from sleep apnea. What we were surprised to see was the drop in GABA. That made us realize that there must be a reorganization of how the brain is working.”

He added that the study’s results are actually encouraging.

“In contrast with damage, if something is working differently, we can potentially fix it,” he said.

“What comes with sleep apnea are these changes in the brain, so in addition to prescribing continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, physicians now know to pay attention to helping their patients who have these other symptoms,” he continued. “Stress, concentration, memory loss — these are the things people want fixed.”

A CPAP machine helps an individual sleep easier, and is considered the gold standard treatment for sleep disturbance.

In future studies, the researchers said they hope to determine whether treating sleep apnea using CPAP or other methods returns patients’ brain chemicals back to normal levels.

If not, they will turn to the question of what treatments could be more effective. The researchers said they are also studying the impacts of mindfulness exercises to see if they can reduce glutamate levels by calming the brain.

The study, conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles Sleep Disorder Center, was published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Source: University of California Los Angeles

By Rick Nauert PhD

New research suggests the practice of using benzodiazepines to treat psychiatric conditions should be abandoned as evidence suggests the drugs heighten the risk for dementia and death.

Benzodiazepines include branded prescription drugs like Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, and Xanax. This class of drug received FDA approval in the 1960s and was believed to be a safer alternative to barbiturates.

Despite new psychiatric protocols, some physicians continue to prescribe benzodiazepines as a primary treatment for insomnia, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other ailments.

“Current research is extremely clear and physicians need to partner with their patients to move them into therapies, like antidepressants, that are proven to be safer and more effective,” said Helene Alphonso, DO, a board-certified psychiatrist and Director of Osteopathic Medical Education at North Texas University Health Science Center.

“Due to a shortage of mental health professionals in rural and underserved areas, we see primary care physicians using this class of drugs to give relief to their patients with psychiatric symptoms. While compassionate, it’s important to understand that a better long-term strategy is needed.”

Alphonso will review current treatment protocols, outpatient benzodiazepine detox strategies, and alternative anxiety treatments at OMED 15, to be held October 17-21 in Orlando. OMED is the annual medical education conference of the American Osteopathic Association.

A Canadian review of 9,000 patients found those who had taken a benzodiazepine for three months or less had about the same dementia risk as those who had never taken one. Taking the drug for three to six months raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 32 percent, and taking it for more than six months boosted the risk by 84 percent. Similar results were found by French researchers studying more than 1,000 elderly patients.

Experts say the case for limiting the use of benzodiazepines is particularly compelling for patients 65 and older, who are more susceptible to falls, injuries, accidental overdose, and death when taking the drugs. The American Geriatric Society in 2012 labeled the drugs “inappropriate” for treating insomnia, agitation, or delirium because of those risks.

“It’s imperative to transition older patients because we’re seeing a very strong correlation between use of benzodiazepines and development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. While correlation certainly isn’t causation, there’s ample reason to avoid this class of drugs as a first-line therapy,” Alphonso said.

Source: American Osteopathic Association/EurekAlert

Dec 19

6 Secret Signs of Hidden Depression


By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Lots of people walk through life trying to hide their depression. Some people with hidden depression can conceal their depression like pros, masking their symptoms and putting on a “happy face” for most others.

People with concealed depression or hidden depression often don’t want to acknowledge the severity of their depressive feelings. They believe that if they just continue living their life, the depression will just go away on its own. In a few cases, this may work. But for most folks, it just drags out the feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Dealing with the black dog of depression through concealing one’s true feelings is the way many of us were brought up — we don’t talk about our feelings and we don’t burden others with our troubles. But if a friend or family member is going through something like this — trying to hide or mask their depression — these signs might help you discover what they’re trying to keep concealed.

6 Signs of Concealed Depression

1. They have unusual sleep, eating or drinking habits that differ from their normal ones.

When a person seems to have changed the way they sleep or eat in significant ways, that’s often a sign that something is wrong. Sleep is the foundation of both good health and mental health. When a person can’t sleep (or sleeps for far too long) every day, that may be a sign of hidden depression.

Others turn to food or alcohol to try and quash their feelings. Overeating can help someone who is depressed feel full, which in turn helps them feel less emotionally empty inside. Drinking may be used to help cover up the feelings of sadness and loneliness that often accompany depression. Sometimes a person will go in the other direction too — losing all interest in food or drinking, because they see no point in it, or it brings them no joy.

2. They wear a forced “happy face” and are always making excuses.

We’ve all seen someone who seems like they are trying to force happiness. It’s a mask we all wear from time to time. But in most cases, the mask wears thin the longer you spend time with the person who’s wearing it. That’s why lots of people with hidden depression try not to spend any more time with others than they absolutely have to. They seem to always have a quick and ready excuse for not being able to hang out, go to dinner, or see you.

It’s hard to see behind the mask of happiness that people with hidden depression wear. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of it in a moment of honesty, or when there’s a conversation lull.

3. They may talk more philosophically than normal.

When you do finally catch up with a person with masked depression, you may find the conversation turning to philosophical topics they don’t normally talk much about. These might include the meaning of life, or what their life has amounted to so far. They may even open up enough to acknowledge occasional thoughts of wanting to hurt themselves or even thoughts of death. They may talk about finding happiness or a better path in the journey of life.

These kinds of topics may be a sign that a person is struggling internally with darker thoughts that they dare not share.

4. They may put out a cry for help, only to take it back.

People with hidden depression struggle fiercely with keeping it hidden. Sometimes, they give up the struggle to conceal their true feelings and so they tell someone about it. They may even take the first step and make an appointment with a doctor or therapist, and a handful will even will make it to the first session.

But then they wake up the next day and realize they’ve gone too far. Seeking out help for their depression would be admitting they truly are depressed. That is an acknowledgment that many people with concealed depression struggle with and cannot make. Nobody else is allowed to see their weakness.

5. They feel things more intensely than normal.

A person with masked depression often feels emotions more intensely than others. This might come across as someone who doesn’t normally cry while watching a TV show or movie suddenly breaks out in tears during a poignant scene. Or someone who doesn’t normally get angry about anything suddenly gets very mad at a driver who cut them off in traffic. Or someone who doesn’t usually express terms of endearment suddenly is telling you that they love you.

It’s like by keeping their depressive feelings all boxed up, other feelings leak out around the edges more easily.

6. They may look at things with a less optimistic point of view than usual.

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as depressive realism, and there’s some research evidence to suggest that it’s true. When a person suffers from depression, they may actually have a more realistic picture of the world around them and their impact on it. People who aren’t depressed, on the other hand, tend to be more optimistic and have expectations that aren’t as grounded in their actual circumstances. Non-depressed people believed they performed better on laboratory tasks than they actually did, compared to people with depression (Moore & Fresco, 2012).

It’s sometimes harder to cover-up this depressive realism, because the difference in attitude may be very small and not come across as something “depressing.” Instead of saying, “I really think I’ll get that promotion this time!” after having been passed over it four previous times, they may say, “Well, I’m up for that promotion again, but I doubt I’ll get it.”

By Janice Wood

New research has found that older adults who improved their fitness through a moderate intensity exercise program increased the thickness of their brain’s cortex, the outer layer of the brain that typically atrophies with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a new study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health, the improvements were found in both healthy older adults and those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Exercise may help to reverse neurodegeneration and the trend of brain shrinkage that we see in those with MCI and Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. J. Carson Smith, an associate professor of kinesiology and senior author of the study, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

“Many people think it is too late to intervene with exercise once a person shows symptoms of memory loss, but our data suggest that exercise may have a benefit in this early stage of cognitive decline.”

For the study, previously inactive people between the ages of 61 and 88 were put on an exercise regimen that included moderate intensity walking on a treadmill four times a week over a 12-week period.

On average, cardiorespiratory fitness improved by about eight percent as a result of the training in all participants, the researchers reported.

The researchers also found that the people who showed the greatest improvements in fitness had the most growth in the cortical layer, including both the group diagnosed with MCI and the healthy participants.

Both groups showed strong associations between increased fitness and increased cortical thickness after the intervention. But the MCI participants showed greater improvements compared to the healthy group in the left insula and superior temporal gyrus, two brain regions that have been shown to exhibit accelerated neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease, the study found.

Smith previously reported that the participants in this exercise intervention showed improvements in neural efficiency during memory recall, and this new data adds to the evidence for the positive impact of exercise on cognitive function.

Other research he has published has shown that moderate intensity physical activity, such as walking for 30 minutes three to four days a week, may protect brain health by staving off shrinkage of the hippocampus in older adults.

Smith noted that he plans future studies that include more participants engaging in a longer-term exercise intervention to see if greater improvements can be seen over time, and if the effects persist over the long term.

The key unanswered question is if regular moderate intensity physical activity could reverse or delay cognitive decline and help keep people out of nursing homes and enable them to maintain their independence as they age, he noted.

Source: University of Maryland

Dec 19

Diet Shown to Slow Cognitive Decline


By Rick Nauert PhD
Although the aging process often includes diminished intellectual capabilities, emerging research suggests eating a group of specific foods may slow cognitive decline.

Rush University Medical Center researchers say a food plan that blend parts of the Mediterranean and DASH diets may retard cognitive decline even among aging adults who are not at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

This finding is in addition to a previous study by the research team that found that the diet may reduce a person’s risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The recent study shows that older adults who followed the diet more rigorously showed an equivalent of being 7.5 years younger cognitively than those who followed the diet least. The results of the study appear online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

The National Institute of Aging funded study evaluated cognitive change over a period of 4.7 years among 960 older adults who were free of dementia on enrollment.

Study participants were part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a study of residents of more than 40 retirement communities and senior public housing units in the Chicago area. Average participant age during the study was 81.4 years.

During the course of the study, participants received annual, standardized testing for cognitive ability in five areas: episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability and perceptual speed. The study group also completed annual food frequency questionnaires, allowing the researchers to compare participants’ reported adherence to the MIND diet with changes in their cognitive abilities as measured by the tests.

Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., a nutritional epidemiologist, and colleagues developed the diet, whose full name is the Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. As the name suggests, the MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.

Both diets have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

“Everyone experiences decline with aging; and Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Therefore, prevention of cognitive decline, the defining feature of dementia, is now more important than ever,” Morris says.

“Delaying dementia’s onset by just five years can reduce the cost and prevalence by nearly half.”

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups: red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

To adhere to and benefit from the MIND diet, a person would need to eat at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day. Additionally participants are asked to drink a glass of wine, snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.

In addition, the study found that to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of cognitive decline, he or she must limit intake of the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), sweets and pastries, whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three).

Berries are the only fruit specifically to be included in the MIND diet. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Morris says, and strawberries also have performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.

“The MIND diet modifies the Mediterranean and DASH diets to highlight the foods and nutrients shown through the scientific literature to be associated with dementia prevention.” Morris explains.

“There is still a great deal of study we need to do in this area, and I expect that we’ll make further modifications as the science on diet and the brain advances.”

Source: Rush University Medical Center/EurekAlert

Dec 19

Stress Can Up Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment


By Janice Wood
New research has discovered that stress increases the likelihood that elderly people will develop mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

In a new study, scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in New York found that highly stressed people were more than twice as likely to become cognitively impaired than those who were not.

Because stress is treatable, the study’s findings suggest that detecting and treating stress in older people might help delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, the researchers noted in the study, which was published in Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders.

Each year, about 470,000 Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. Many of them first experienced mild cognitive impairment, a pre-dementia condition that significantly increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

For the new study, scientists looked at the connection between chronic stress and amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), the most common type of MCI, which is primarily characterized by memory loss.

“Our study provides strong evidence that perceived stress increases the likelihood that an older person will develop aMCI,” said Richard Lipton, M.D., senior author of the study, vice chair of neurology at Einstein and Montefiore.

“Fortunately, perceived stress is a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, making it a potential target for treatment.”

“Perceived stress reflects the daily hassles we all experience, as well as the way we appraise and cope with these events,” said the study’s first author, Mindy Katz, M.P.H., a senior associate in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology at Einstein.

“Perceived stress can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioral therapies and stress-reducing drugs. These interventions may postpone or even prevent an individual’s cognitive decline.”

The researchers studied data collected from 507 people enrolled in the Einstein Aging Study (EAS). Since 1993, the EAS has recruited adults 70 and over who live in Bronx County, N.Y.

Participants undergo annual assessments that include clinical evaluations, a neuropsychological battery of tests, psychosocial measures, medical history, assessments of daily activities, and reports — by the participants and those close to them — of memory and other cognitive complaints.

Starting in 2005, the EAS began assessing stress using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). This 14-item measure of psychological stress was designed to be sensitive to chronic stress due to ongoing life circumstances, possible future events, and other causes perceived over the previous month. PSS scores range from zero to 56, with higher scores indicating greater perceived stress, the researchers explained.

The diagnosis of aMCI was based on standard clinical criteria, including the results of recall tests and reports of forgetfulness from the participants or from others.

All 507 enrollees were free of aMCI or dementia at their initial PSS assessment and subsequently underwent at least one annual follow-up evaluation. They were followed for an average of 3.6 years.

During the study, 71 of the 507 participants were diagnosed with aMCI. The greater the participants’ stress level, the greater their risk for developing aMCI, according to the researchers.

For every five point increase in their PSS scores, their risk of developing aMCI increased by 30 percent.

Similar results were obtained when participants were divided into five groups based on their PSS scores. Participants in the highest-stress group were nearly 2.5 times more likely to develop aMCI than were people in the remaining four groups combined.

When comparing the two groups, participants in the high-stress group were more likely to be female and have less education and higher levels of depression, the researchers added.

Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Nov 15

Computer Game Can Aid Memory in Older Adults


By Janice Wood

A new study has shown that just one month of training on a new computer game can help older adults strengthen prospective memory, the type of memory necessary for planning, everyday functioning, and independent living.

Older adults who played the cognitive-training game, called Virtual Week, “more than doubled” the number of prospective memory tasks performed correctly compared to seniors who performed other activities, such as taking music classes, according to researchers at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, Canada.

Prospective memory, which refers to the ability to remember and successfully carry out intentions and planned activities during the day, tends to weaken with age, the researchers noted. It accounts for between 50 percent to 80 percent of reported everyday memory problems, they added.

The study incorporated a “train for transfer” approach, utilizing a training intervention to have participants practice performing real-world prospective memory tasks in simulated every day settings and then assessing whether the cognitive gains transfer to successful performance at home, the researchers explained.

“As the world’s population ages, it is becoming increasingly important to develop ways to support successful prospective memory functioning so that older adults can continue to live independently at home without the need for assisted care,” said Dr. Nathan Rose, lead investigator of the study and now a research fellow in the School of Psychology at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.

“While these results are encouraging, they represent a first step in exploring the efficacy of prospective memory training with the Virtual Week training program,” added Dr. Fergus Craik, a memory researcher based at Baycrest and senior author on the paper, which was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

“Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that training in the lab resulted in improvements in real-life memory tasks. This lab-to-life transfer has been difficult to achieve in previous studies.”

For the study, researchers developed a version of a computerized board game called Virtual Week in which players simulate going through the course of a day on a circuit that resembles a Monopoly board.

Players move their tokens through a virtual day. Along the way, they have to remember to perform several tasks, such as taking medication or taking their dinner out of the oven at appropriate times.

Researchers recruited 59 healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 79, who played 24 levels of the game over a one-month period.

The difficulty of the game increased over the course of training in terms of the number of tasks to be completed each day, the complexity of tasks, and interference with prior tasks. The difficulty was adjusted to each individual’s level of performance on the previous day.

Prospective memory performance measures were taken before the training began and after, then compared to two control groups; one of which received a music-based cognitive training program and the other which received no intervention. The researchers also developed a “call-back” task in which participants had to remember to phone the lab from home during their every day activities.

The researchers found large training gains in prospective memory performance in the group that played the Virtual Week game. Moreover, these gains transferred to significant improvements in real-world prospective memory, including on tasks such as counting change and following medication instructions, according to the researchers.

Brain imaging (EEG) on a subset of the groups showed some evidence of neuroplasticity — brain changes — that correlated to correct prospective memory performance, the researchers report. These brain changes were particularly associated with the ability to stop oneself from carrying on with ongoing activities and switch to performing an intended action at the appropriate time.

The early findings are so promising that the researchers have been awarded a grant from the Australian Research Council, in partnership with Villa Maria Catholic Homes, to follow up on the study with a large randomized control trial.

The research team was also awarded a grant with colleagues in the Centre for Heart and Mind at the Australian Catholic University’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research to implement the game-based cognitive training program in patients with chronic heart failure, a group that demonstrates severe prospective memory problems associated with self-care.

Source: Baycrest Health Sciences

Oct 27

By Rick Nauert PhD

New research suggests the practice of using benzodiazepines to treat psychiatric conditions should be abandoned as evidence suggests the drugs heighten the risk for dementia and death.

Benzodiazepines include branded prescription drugs like Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, and Xanax. This class of drug received FDA approval in the 1960s and was believed to be a safer alternative to barbiturates.

Despite new psychiatric protocols, some physicians continue to prescribe benzodiazepines as a primary treatment for insomnia, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other ailments.

“Current research is extremely clear and physicians need to partner with their patients to move them into therapies, like antidepressants, that are proven to be safer and more effective,” said Helene Alphonso, DO, a board-certified psychiatrist and Director of Osteopathic Medical Education at North Texas University Health Science Center.

“Due to a shortage of mental health professionals in rural and underserved areas, we see primary care physicians using this class of drugs to give relief to their patients with psychiatric symptoms. While compassionate, it’s important to understand that a better long-term strategy is needed.”

Alphonso will review current treatment protocols, outpatient benzodiazepine detox strategies, and alternative anxiety treatments at OMED 15, to be held October 17-21 in Orlando. OMED is the annual medical education conference of the American Osteopathic Association.

A Canadian review of 9,000 patients found those who had taken a benzodiazepine for three months or less had about the same dementia risk as those who had never taken one. Taking the drug for three to six months raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 32 percent, and taking it for more than six months boosted the risk by 84 percent. Similar results were found by French researchers studying more than 1,000 elderly patients.

Experts say the case for limiting the use of benzodiazepines is particularly compelling for patients 65 and older, who are more susceptible to falls, injuries, accidental overdose, and death when taking the drugs. The American Geriatric Society in 2012 labeled the drugs “inappropriate” for treating insomnia, agitation, or delirium because of those risks.

“It’s imperative to transition older patients because we’re seeing a very strong correlation between use of benzodiazepines and development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. While correlation certainly isn’t causation, there’s ample reason to avoid this class of drugs as a first-line therapy,” Alphonso said.

Source: American Osteopathic Association/EurekAlert

Oct 17

When someone is told they have dementia, it means they have significant memory problems as well as other cognitive difficulties. Most of the time dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

In many parts of the world the words Alzheimer’s and dementia are used interchangeably.

While dementia is an all encompassing term, Alzheimer’s disease relates to a specific type of dementia.

Contrary to what some people may think, dementia is not a less severe problem, with Alzheimer’s disease being a more severe problem.

There is great confusion about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In a nutshell, dementia is a syndrome, and Alzheimer’s is the cause of the symptom.

When someone is told they have dementia, it means that they have significant memory problems as well as other cognitive difficulties, and that these problems are severe enough to get in the way of daily living.

Too often, patients and their family members are told by their doctors that the patient has been diagnosed with “a little bit of dementia.” They leave the doctor’s visit with a feeling of relief that at least they don’t have Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

The confusion is felt on the part of patients, family members, the media, and even health care providers. This article provides information to reduce the confusion by defining and describing these two common and often poorly understood terms.

What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
“Dementia” is a term that has replaced a more out-of-date word, “senility,” to refer to cognitive changes with advanced age.
Dementia includes a group of symptoms, the most prominent of which is memory difficulty with additional problems in at least one other area of cognitive functioning, including language, attention, problem solving, spatial skills, judgment, planning, or organization.
These cognitive problems are a noticeable change compared to the person’s cognitive functioning earlier in life and are severe enough to get in the way of normal daily living, such as social and occupational activities.

A good analogy to the term dementia is “fever.” Fever refers to an elevated temperature, indicating that a person is sick. But it does not give any information about what is causing the sickness.

In the same way, dementia means that there is something wrong with a person’s brain, but it does not provide any information about what is causing the memory or cognitive difficulties.

Dementia is not a disease; it is the clinical presentation or symptoms of a disease. There are many possible causes of dementia. Some causes are reversible, such as certain thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies. If these underlying problems are identified and treated, then the dementia reverses and the person can return to normal functioning.

However, most causes of dementia are not reversible. Rather, they are degenerative diseases of the brain that get worse over time. The most common cause of dementia is AD, accounting for as many as 70-80% of all cases of dementia.

Approximately 5.3 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s Disease.
As people get older, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease increases, with approximately 50% of people age 85 and older having the disease.
It is important to note, however, that although Alzheimer’s is extremely common in later years of life, it is not part of normal aging. For that matter, dementia is not part of normal aging.
If someone has dementia (due to whatever underlying cause), it represents an important problem in need of appropriate diagnosis and treatment by a well-trained health care provider who specializes in degenerative diseases.
In a nutshell, dementia is a symptom, and Alzheimer’s Disease is the cause of the symptom.

When someone is told they have dementia, it means that they have significant memory problems as well as other cognitive difficulties, and that these problems are severe enough to get in the way of daily living.

Most of the time, dementia is caused by the specific brain disease, AD. However, some uncommon degenerative causes of dementia include vascular dementia (also referred to as multi-infarct dementia), frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Contrary to what some people may think, dementia is not a less severe problem, with AD being a more severe problem.

How to Test Your Memory for Alzheimer’s

There is not a continuum with dementia on one side and AD at the extreme. Rather, there can be early or mild stages of AD, which then progress to moderate and severe stages of the disease.
One reason for the confusion about dementia and AD is that it is not possible to diagnose AD with 100% accuracy while someone is alive. Rather, AD can only truly be diagnosed after death, upon autopsy when the brain tissue is carefully examined by a specialized doctor referred to as a neuropathologist.
During life, a patient can be diagnosed with “probable AD.” This term is used by doctors and researchers to indicate that, based on the person’s symptoms, the course of the symptoms, and the results of various tests, it is very likely that the person will show pathological features of AD when the brain tissue is examined following death.
In specialty memory clinics and research programs, such as the BU ADC, the accuracy of a probable AD diagnosis can be excellent. And with the results of exciting new research, such as that being conducted at the BU ADC, the accuracy of AD diagnosis during life is getting better and better. This contribution was made by Dr. Robert Stern, Director of the BU ADC Clinical Core.

SAGE: A Test to Detect Signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Catch memory problems early, take the SAGE test.

The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) is designed to detect early signs of cognitive, memory or thinking impairments. It evaluates your thinking abilities and helps physicians to know how well your brain is working.

Take the SAGE Test

You do not need special equipment to take SAGE – just pen and paper. There are four forms of the SAGE test. You only need to take one. It doesn’t matter which one you take; they are all interchangeable.

Click on the link below to download the test. Print it out and answer the questions in ink without the assistance of others. Don’t look at the clock or calendar while taking the test, and if you have questions about an item, just do the best you can. The average time to complete this four-page test is 10 to 15 minutes, but there is no time limit.

Download Test:

Why take the SAGE test?

You may want to take SAGE if you are concerned that you might have cognitive issues. Or you may wish to have your family or friends take the test if they are having memory or thinking problems. The difficulties listed can be early signs of cognitive and brain dysfunction. While dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can lead to these symptoms, there are many other treatable disorders that also may cause these signs.

It is normal to experience some memory loss and to take longer to recall events as you age. But if the changes you are experiencing are worrying you or others around you, SAGE can be a helpful tool to assess if further evaluation is necessary.

Unfortunately, many people do not seek help for these kinds of symptoms until they have experienced them for several years. There are many treatable causes of cognitive and thinking loss, and in some cases, medications or other treatments can be very effective-especially if provided when symptoms first begin.

Remember that SAGE does not diagnose any specific condition. The results of SAGE will not tell you if you have Alzheimer’s disease, mini-strokes or any number of other disorders. But the results can help your doctor know if further evaluation is necessary.

What do I do after I take the test?

After you complete the test, take it to your primary care physician. Your doctor will score it and interpret the results. If indicated, your doctor will order some tests to further evaluate your symptoms or refer you for further evaluation.

If your score does not indicate any need for further evaluation, your doctor can keep the test on file as a baseline for the future. That means, you can take the test again in the future, and the doctor can see if there are any changes over time.

There is no answer sheet provided here for you to score yourself because there are multiple correct answers to many of the questions on the test. SAGE should be scored by your physician.

If you do not have a primary care physician, you can find one through our list of providers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Oct 4

by Dr. David Samadi

1. Feeling depressed: Changes in mood are also common with dementia. Loved ones often notice this. Depression, for instance, is typical in the early stages of dementia. Along with mood changes, personality changes also occur. A typical sign is a shift from being shy to outgoing from judgement being affected through the disease.

2. Carrying Extra Weight: A significant study released in May 2011 published in the journal, Neurology, linked a high body mass index to an increased risk for dementia.

3. Can’t sleep: If you have trouble sleeping, it could be an early sign of dementia. Published in the journal Annals of Neurology in December 2011 39% of 1300 women who were participants in the study had developed some mild cognitive impairment by the end of the 5-year period.

4. Walking Slow: Declining motor skills is a common sign of dementia. As the condition progresses, difficulty with motor functions and coordination will arise. Patients will lose the ability to do small daily tasks like going to the bathroom or getting dressed.

5. Memory Loss—Obviously this is the major one. You or your loved ones may notice memory loss affects the daily routine the most. Patients may experience subtle short-term memory changes:

Ability to focus and pay attention
Reasoning and judgment
Visual perception
Cognitive changes should be expected such as difficulty with:

Following storylines
Finding the right wording
Communicating or finding words
Complex tasks
Planning and organizing
Coordination and motor functions
Problems with disorientation, such as getting lost

Sep 25

Too Little Vitamin D May Hasten Mental Decline


By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay News

Study found adults with low levels more likely to have dementia, and poor memory and thinking skills.
Mental function may decline faster in older adults with low levels of vitamin D, a new study suggests.

Among more than 380 people the researchers followed for an average of five years, those with dementia had the lowest levels of vitamin D.

“It is unclear what vitamin D might be doing,” said study author Joshua Miller, chair of the department of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in New Brunswick, N.J.

“There is good evidence that vitamin D gets into all cells of the body, including the brain,” Miller said, so it’s possible that vitamin D protects the brain from developing the plaques and tangles that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Unfortunately, “there’s a good chance that most people over 75 in the United States are vitamin D-deficient,” he noted.

Miller cautioned that there’s no proof that taking vitamin D supplements will slow mental decline, as this study only showed an association between the two.

“All we can say is that supplements might be helpful to you,” he said. “And the downside of taking supplements is very small.”

The report was published online Sept. 14 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for older adults is 600 to 800 IU, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D, called the sunshine vitamin, is found in fortified foods, such as milk, orange juice, cereals and yogurt. Fish, egg yolks and liver also contain the vitamin.

Miller and his colleagues defined four levels of vitamin D in blood: deficiency as less than 12 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL); insufficient as 12 to less than 20 ng/mL; adequate as 20 to less than 50 ng/mL; and high as 50 ng/mL or more.

The researchers found that most people in the study had levels of vitamin D that were too low; 26 percent were vitamin D-deficient and 35 percent were vitamin D-insufficient. Blacks and Hispanics had the lowest vitamin D levels, compared with whites.

Blacks and other minorities have higher concentrations of melanin, which makes their skin darker, but this inhibits synthesis of vitamin D, the researchers explained.

Also, dietary intake of vitamin D comes mostly from dairy products, and minority groups tend to consume low amounts of dairy foods, the study authors added.

The average age of participants in the study was slightly over 75 years old. At the start of the trial, 17.5 percent of the participants had dementia, almost 33 percent had some problems with thinking and memory (mild cognitive impairment) and 49.5 percent were mentally normal.

Vitamin D levels were lower among those with dementia at 16 ng/mL, compared with those with mild cognitive impairment (20 ng/mL) and mentally normal participants (19.7 ng/mL), Miller’s team found.

During follow-up, the rates of decline in memory, thinking and problem-solving among those who were vitamin D-deficient and vitamin D-insufficient were larger than among those with adequate levels of vitamin D, the researchers found.

Levels of vitamin D were not significantly linked with decline in the memory of things and events stored in long-term memory or with the ability to perceive visual and spatial relationships, the study found.

Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said, “Vitamin D levels should be checked at least once in people 55 and older, and should be a part of any evaluation of mental impairment.”

Gandy, who was not involved with the study, doesn’t think that older people should be taking vitamin D supplements as a matter of course, however.

“I would stop short of recommending general use of supplements by everyone,” he said. “But certainly everyone should have their levels checked at least once in midlife and if there is any mental issue.”

By Rick Nauert PhD

Results from a new study suggests that errors on memory and thinking tests may signal Alzheimer’s up to 18 years before the disease can be diagnosed.

For the study, 2,125 European-American and African-American people from Chicago with an average age of 73 without Alzheimer’s disease were given tests of memory and thinking skills every three years for 18 years.

Rush University Medical Center researchers have published their finding in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“The changes in thinking and memory that precede obvious symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin decades before,” said study author Kumar B. Rajan, Ph.D.

“While we cannot currently detect such changes in individuals at risk, we were able to observe them among a group of individuals who eventually developed dementia due to Alzheimer’s.”

Twenty-three percent of African-Americans and 17 percent of European-Americans developed Alzheimer’s disease during the study. Those who scored lower overall on the memory and thinking tests had an increased risk of developing the disease.

During the first year of the study, people with lower test scores were about 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease than people with higher scores, with the odds increasing by 10 for every standard deviation that the score was lower than the average.

Based on tests completed 13 to 18 years before the final assessments took place, one unit lower in performance of the standardized cognitive test score was associated with an 85 percent greater risk (relative risk of 1.85) of future dementia.

“While that risk is lower than the same one unit lower performance when measured in the year before dementia assessment, the observation that lower test scores 13 to 18 years later indicates how subtle declines in cognitive function affect future risk,” said Rajan.

The findings support conceptualizing Alzheimer’s disease as a progressive condition that has mild or subtle beginnings.

“A general current concept is that in development of Alzheimer’s disease, certain physical and biologic changes precede memory and thinking impairment. If this is so, then these underlying processes may have a very long duration.

Efforts to successfully prevent the disease may well require a better understanding of these processes near middle age,” Rajan said.

Source: American Academy of Neurology/EurekAlert

By Traci Pedersen
Recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD) is associated with lower bone mineral density (BMD) in men, according to a new study from the University of Eastern Finland in collaboration with Deakin University, Australia. The use of antidepressants is also associated with lower BMD, but this link is dependent on weight and site of bone measurement.

Osteoporosis is a common health problem, particularly among postmenopausal women, and an underlying factor in fragility fractures. In the elderly, susceptibility to fracture and serious hip fractures can result in long-term hospitalization and decreased state of health.

Risk factors include low levels of physical activity, smoking, low intake of calcium and vitamin D, as well as certain medications and diseases. Lower bone density has also been linked to depression.

This might be due to depression-induced long-term stress and increased secretion of inflammatory markers. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used to treat depression have been shown to weaken bone health as well.

Although most studies have focused on postmenopausal women, the new study analyzed the association of single and recurrent MDD episodes and the use of antidepressants with bone density in men.

Between 2006 and 2011, 928 male participants (aged 24-98 years) completed a comprehensive questionnaire and had BMD assessments at the forearm, spine, total hip, and total body. MDD was identified using a structured clinical interview.

Nine percent of the study population had experienced a single MDD episode, and five percent had suffered from recurrent MDD. Furthermore, seven percent of the study participants reported the use of antidepressants at the time of assessment.

The findings showed that recurrent MDD was associated with lower BMD at the forearm (-6.5 percent) and total body (-2.5 percent) compared to men with no history of MDD, while single MDD episodes were associated with higher BMD at the total hip (+3.4 percent).

Antidepressant use was tied to lower BMD only in lower-weight men and varied across the bone sites. For example, the use of antidepressants was associated with reduced bone density in the hip in men weighing less than 242 pounds.

In the forearm, however, the association of anti-depressants with reduced bone density was not observed in men until their body weight was under 165 pounds.

Finally, the findings show that recurrent major depression may increase the risk of osteoporosis in men. Furthermore, the use of antidepressants should be taken into account as a potential risk factor of osteoporosis especially in men with a low body weight.

The study constitutes part of the Ph.D. project of Researcher Päivi Rauma, focusing on the effects of depression and antidepressants on bone health. The findings are published in the Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions.

May 5

By Janice Wood

People whose jobs require more speaking, developing strategies, conflict resolution, and managerial tasks may experience better protection against memory and thinking decline in old age than their co-workers, according to a new study.

“Our study is important because it suggests that the type of work you do throughout your career may have even more significance on your brain health than your education does,” said study author Francisca S. Then, Ph.D., of the University of Leipzig in Germany. “Education is a well-known factor that influences dementia risk.”

For the study, 1,054 people over the age of 75 were given tests that measured their memory and thinking abilities every one and a half years for eight years.

The researchers also asked the study participants about their work history, then categorized the tasks they completed into three groups: executive, verbal, and fluid.

Examples of executive tasks are scheduling work and activities, developing strategies and resolving conflicts. Examples of verbal tasks are evaluating and interpreting information, while fluid tasks were considered to be those that included selective attention and analyzing data, the researchers explained.

Memory and thinking abilities were examined through a clinical test, the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). In this test, a small decline in points can indicate a clinically relevant deficit, according to the researchers.

The study found that people whose careers included the highest level of all three types of tasks scored highest on the thinking and memory tests by two MMSE points over people with the lowest level.

People with the highest level of all three types of tasks also had the slowest rate of cognitive decline, according to the study’s findings.

Over eight years, their rate of decline was half the rate of the participants with a low level of mentally demanding work tasks. Among the three types of work tasks, high levels of executive and verbal tasks were associated with slower rates of memory and thinking decline, the researchers noted.

Participants with a high level of executive tasks scored two MMSE points higher on memory and thinking tests at the beginning of the study and five MMSE points higher after eight years in the study compared to participants with a low level of these tasks, according to the study’s findings. Participants with a high level of verbal tasks declined an average two MMSE points less than those with a low level, the study found.

“Challenges at work may indeed be a positive element, if they build up a person’s mental reserve in the long-term,” said Then.

The study was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Source: The American Academy of Neurology

Apr 26

By Janice Wood
A new study suggests that people who notice they are having memory problems often are diagnosed with clinical memory impairment later in life.

For the study, Erin Abner, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, asked 3,701 men aged 60 and older one question: “Have you noticed any change in your memory since you last came in?”

That question led to some interesting results, she noted.

“It seems that subjective memory complaint can be predictive of clinical memory impairment,” Abner said. “Other epidemiologists have seen similar results, which is encouraging, since it means we might really be on to something.”

The researcher explains that the results are meaningful because it might help identify people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease sooner.

“If the memory and thinking lapses people notice themselves could be early markers of risk for Alzheimer’s disease, we might eventually be able to intervene earlier in the aging process to postpone and/or reduce the effects of cognitive memory impairment,” she said.

Abner was quick to note that the new study shouldn’t worry everyone who’s ever forgotten where they left their keys.

“I don’t want to alarm people,” she said. “It’s important to distinguish between normal memory lapses and significant memory problems, which usually change over time and affect multiple aspects of daily life.”

Source: University of Kentucky

By Traci Pedersen

In people who develop the disease frontotemporal dementia, those with more demanding jobs may live about three years longer than those with less skilled jobs, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Frontotemporal dementia, which often develops in people still under the age of 65, causes changes in personality or behavior and problems with language, but does not affect the memory.

“This study suggests that having a higher occupational level protects the brain from some of the effects of this disease, allowing people to live longer after developing the disease,” said study author Lauren Massimo, Ph.D., CRNP, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania State University in State College, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study findings support the theory of “cognitive reserve,” which asserts that factors such as longer education, challenging occupations, and mental activity build up connections in the brain that create a buffer against disease.

“People with frontotemporal dementia typically live six to 10 years after the symptoms emerge, but little has been known about what factors contribute to this range,” Massimo said.

For the study, researchers looked at the medical charts of 83 people who had an autopsy after death to confirm the diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. They compared this information to people’s primary occupation.

Jobs were ranked by U.S. Census categories, with careers such as factory workers and service workers in the lowest level; jobs such as tradesworkers and sales people in the next level; and professional and technical workers, such as lawyers and engineers, at the highest level.

Researchers looked at when the dementia symptoms began based on the earliest report from family members telling of persistently abnormal behavior. Survival was defined as from the time symptoms began until death.

According to the findings, the 34 people who had developed frontotemporal dementia had an average survival time of about seven years. Those with more challenging jobs were more likely to have longer survival times than those with less challenging jobs.

Frontotemporal dementia patients in the highest occupation level survived an average of 116 months, while people in the lower occupation group survived an average of 72 months, suggesting that people with more challenging jobs may live up to three years longer.

The findings showed that occupational level was not linked to a longer lifespan in those with Alzheimer’s disease dementia. The number of years of education a person had was not linked to a longer life in either type of dementia.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Mar 27

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor

Researchers have known that a high-fat diet is linked to a variety of medical problems such as heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.

Emerging research suggests a high-fat diet may also increase the risk for depression and other psychiatric disorders.

As discussed in a new study, researchers theorize that a high-fat diet produces changes in health and behavior, in part, by changing the mix of bacteria in the gut, also known as the gut microbiome.

The study is found in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The human microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms, many of which reside in the intestinal tract. These microbiota are essential for normal physiological functioning.

However, research has suggested that alterations in the microbiome may underlie the host’s susceptibility to illness, including neuropsychiatric impairment.

As a result, researchers at Louisiana State University decided to test whether an obesity-related microbiome alters behavior and cognition even in the absence of obesity.

For the study, non-obese adult mice were conventionally housed and maintained on a normal diet, but received a transplant of gut microbiota from donor mice that had been fed either a high-fat diet or control diet. The recipient mice were then evaluated for changes in behavior and cognition.

The animals who received the microbiota shaped by a high-fat diet showed multiple disruptions in behavior, including increased anxiety, impaired memory, and repetitive behaviors.

They also showed many detrimental effects in the body, including increased intestinal permeability and markers of inflammation. Signs of inflammation in the brain were also evident and may have contributed to the behavioral changes.

“This paper suggests that high-fat diets impair brain health, in part, by disrupting the symbiotic relationship between humans and the microorganisms that occupy our gastrointestinal tracks,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

Experts believe the findings provide evidence that diet-induced changes to the gut microbiome are sufficient to alter brain function even in the absence of obesity.

This is consistent with prior research, which has established an association between numerous psychiatric conditions and gastrointestinal symptoms. However, the mechanisms by which gut microbiota affect behavior are still not well understood.

Researchers believe additional studies are necessary, but the current findings do suggest that the gut microbiome has the eventual potential to serve as a therapeutic target for neuropsychiatric disorders.

Mar 7

By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor

A new diet, known by the acronym MIND, has been found to significantly reduce a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD), even when the diet is not strictly followed, according to new research published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

The MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

The diet was developed by nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., of Rush University in Chicago, and her colleagues.

According to the study findings, the MIND diet was able to lower the risk of AD by as much as 53 percent in participants who strictly adhered to the diet, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it fairly well.

“One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD,” said Morris, a Rush professor, assistant provost for Community Research, and director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology.

“I think that will motivate people.”

The diet is based on information accrued from years’ worth of past research about which foods and nutrients have positive and negative effects on the functioning of the brain over time. This is the first study to relate the MIND diet to Alzheimer’s disease.

For the study, the MIND diet was compared with the two other diets. People with high adherence to the DASH and Mediterranean diets also had reductions in AD — 39 percent with the DASH diet and 54 percent with the Mediterranean diet — but got insignificant benefits when they only loosely followed either diet.

The MIND diet labels 15 dietary components: 10 “brain-healthy food groups” — green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine — and five unhealthy groups such as red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, and sweets, and fried or fast food.

To follow the MIND diet, a person should eat at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine — snack most days on nuts, eat beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week, and eat fish at least once a week.

However, a person should limit consumption of the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than one tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of AD, according to the study.

Berries are the only fruit included in the MIND diet. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Morris said, and strawberries have also performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.

AD, which takes a devastating toll on cognitive function, is not unlike heart disease in that there appear to be “many factors that play into who gets the disease,” including behavioral, environmental and genetic components, Morris said.

“With late-onset AD, with that older group of people, genetic risk factors are a small piece of the picture,” she said. Research has shown that what we eat may play a significant role in determining who gets AD and who doesn’t, Morris added.

The findings also suggest that the longer a person adheres to the MIND diet, the less risk a person will have of developing AD. “You’ll be healthier if you’ve been doing the right thing for a long time,” Morris added.

Source: Rush University Medical Center

Sep 14

Low Serotonin Levels Don’t Cause Depression



Low Serotonin Levels Don’t Cause DepressionOne of the leading myths that unfortunately still circulates about clinical depression is that it’s caused by low serotonin levels in the brain (or a “biochemical imbalance”). This is a myth because countless scientific studies have specifically examined this theory and have come back universally rejecting it.

So let’s put it to rest once and for all — low levels of serotonin in the brain don’t cause depression.

Let’s find out why.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had to debunk this myth. We last did so in 2007 — 7 years ago — pointing out that most people’s (even doctor’s!) belief that low serotonin causes depression is a result of pharmaceutical companies’ successful marketing. It’s a message they repeatedly hammered home1, making it one of the most successful marketing messages-turned-into-fact ever done on Madison Avenue.

However, you may be reading this article to get to the punch line: So if low serotonin levels don’t cause depression, what does? Here’s the short answer — researchers still don’t understand what causes depression. We have a lot of theories still in the mix and still being researched, but none of them have resulted in one, conclusive answer.

One of those theories that’s been tested — and tested time and time again — is the idea that our brains can sometimes run low on a neurotransmitter called serotonin. It is thought by prescribing a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant medication like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil “fixes” this imbalance, bringing serotonin levels back to “normal.”

First, let’s tackle the whole “chemical imbalance” theory that underlines the serotonin theory of depression. In order for us to suggest an imbalance in anything, we’d have to understand what a perfectly balanced brain looks like. To date, no study or researcher has been able to show such a brain. It’s likely because it doesn’t exist.

The brain is the least-understood organ in the body today. What we do know about it is that it is constantly changing and in flux. Virtually any stimuli can alter its energy consumption temporarily. We don’t understand why the brain is structured the way it is, or even how it actually communicates internally (although, again, we have a lot of theories).

It’s hard to imagine, but physicians only began to understand what the heart’s purpose in the body was about 400 years ago. It’s no wonder we might need a few more decades (or longer) to understand how the body’s most complex organ operates.

Serotonin’s Role in Depression
Back in 2005, Lacasse and Leo pointed out in the journal PLOS Medicine that there was a huge disconnect between what we knew about serotonin’s role in depression from the medical research, and what pharmaceutical advertisements were claiming we knew:

Regarding SSRIs, there is a growing body of medical literature casting doubt on the serotonin hypothesis, and this body is not reflected in the consumer advertisements. In particular, many SSRI advertisements continue to claim that the mechanism of action of SSRIs is that of correcting a chemical imbalance, such as a paroxetine advertisement, which states, “With continued treatment, Paxil can help restore the balance of serotonin…” [22].

Yet […] there is no such thing as a scientifically established correct “balance” of serotonin. The take-home message for consumers viewing SSRI advertisements is probably that SSRIs work by normalizing neurotransmitters that have gone awry. This was a hopeful notion 30 years ago, but is not an accurate reflection of present-day scientific evidence.

New research that we reported on last month confirms the role of serotonin in depression is not well-understood. In that mice study, removing the stuff in the brain that creates serotonin2 did not create a bunch of depressed mice.

Other research confirms it’s not as simple as a serotonin deficit. As Whitaker (2010) noted, the 1976 Asbert study is still relevant. Asbert looked at levels of a metabolized result of serotonin (something called 5-HIAA) in spinal fluid. If low-levels of serotonin cause depression, then all people suffering from depression should have significantly lower levels of 5-HIAA in their spinal fluid than people without depression.

What Asbert found, however, wasn’t a clean result. In fact, it clearly shows how complicated depression as a disease process is. In both groups of people studied — both a depression group and a control group — about 50 percent had “regular” levels of 5-HIAA, about 25 percent had really low levels, and another 25 percent had really high levels.

If serotonin were really an important part of the picture in depression, we’d expect that group to look significantly different than the control group. In this study, at least, the two groups looked largely the same.

As we said back in 2007, serotonin may play some small, not-yet-well-understood role in depression. But if it does, it looks nothing like the simplistic “low levels of serotonin cause depression” hypothesis that was all the rage ten to twenty years ago.

If a doctor suggests this is the cause of your depression, and all you need is an antidepressant like Prozac, point them to this article. And please take a moment to share this on Facebook and twitter. It’s an widespread myth that dumbs down depression that we need to put to rest once and for all.

By TRACI PEDERSEN Associate News Editor

Poor Cardiovascular Health Linked to Learning, Memory ProblemsIndividuals with poor cardiovascular health are at far greater risk for developing cognitive impairment, particularly learning and memory problems, than those with intermediate or ideal cardiovascular health, according to a new study published in the Journal of American Heart Association.

“Even when ideal cardiovascular health is not achieved, intermediate levels of cardiovascular health are preferable to low levels for better cognitive function,” said lead investigator Evan L. Thacker, Ph.D., an assistant professor and chronic disease epidemiologist at Brigham Young University Department of Health Science, in Provo, Utah.

“This is an encouraging message because intermediate cardiovascular health is a more realistic target for many individuals than ideal cardiovascular health.”

Specifically, researchers found that people with the worst cardiovascular health were more likely to have problems with learning, memory, and verbal fluency tests than those with intermediate or better cardiovascular health.

The study included 17,761 people, ages 45 and older, with normal cognitive function and no history of stroke. Four years later, researchers evaluated their cognitive skills.

Researchers used data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study to assess cardiovascular health based on The American Heart Association Life’s Simple 7 score. The REGARDS study population is 55 percent women, 42 percent blacks, 58 percent whites, and 56 percent are residents of the “stroke belt” states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Life’s Simple 7 is a system designed to measure seven health behaviors and their risk factors as they pertain to cardiovascular health. These include smoking, diet, physical activity, body mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and fasting glucose. Each section can be broken down into poor, intermediate, or ideal.

Researchers found cognitive impairment in 4.6 percent of people with poor cardiovascular health scores; 2.7 percent of those with intermediate health profiles; and 2.6 percent of those in the best cardiovascular health category.

The statistics were consistent after factoring in race, gender, pre-existing cardiovascular conditions, or geographic region, although higher cardiovascular health scores were more common in men, people with higher education, higher income, and those with no cardiovascular disease.

The tests for cognitive function measured verbal learning, memory, and fluency. The verbal learning section used a three-trial, ten-item word list. Verbal memory was determined by asking participants to recall the ten-item list after a brief delay filled with non-cognitive questions. Verbal fluency was determined by having participants name as many animals as they could in 60 seconds.

Although the specific factors behind the results are not yet known, Thacker noted that undetected subclinical strokes could not be ruled out.

Source: American Heart Association

Feb 6

Long-term unemployment may accelerate ageing in men, study finds

Men who are unemployed for more than two years show signs of faster ageing in their DNA, a study has found, Imperial College London reports.

Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Oulu, Finland studied DNA samples from 5,620 men and women born in Finland in 1966.

They measured structures called telomeres, which lie at the ends of chromosomes and protect the genetic code from being degraded. Telomeres become shorter over a person’s lifetime, and their length is considered a marker for biological ageing. Short telomeres are linked to higher risk of age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, found that men who had been unemployed for more than two of the preceding three years were more than twice as likely to have short telomeres compared to men who were continuously employed.

This trend was not seen in women, which may be because fewer women than men in the study were unemployed for long periods in their 30s.

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor

Supplement May Slow Cognitive Decline in Older AdultsNormal aging is typically accompanied by some declines in cognitive abilities, but a new study suggests that impairment may be mitigated by a proprietary supplement including blueberries and green tea.

Physical activity and cognitive training have been found to be helpful in delaying cognitive decline, with dietary modifications and supplements recently generating additional interest.

In the study, University of South Florida researchers report that a formula of nutrients high in antioxidants and other natural components can help to boost the speed at which the brains of older adults processed information.

The USF-developed nutritional supplement includes extracts from blueberries and green tea combined with vitamin D3 and amino acids, including carnosine.

The compound was tested by the USF researchers in a clinical trial enrolling 105 healthy adults, ages 65 to 85.

Researchers Paula Bickford, Ph.D., and Brent Small, Ph.D., teamed up to investigate the effects of the antioxidant-rich nutritional supplement on the cognitive performance of older adults.

The two-month study evaluated the effects of the formula, called NT-020, on the cognitive performance of these older adults, who had no diagnosed memory disorders.

Those randomized to the group of 52 volunteers receiving NT-020 demonstrated improvements in cognitive processing speed, while the 53 volunteers randomized to receive a placebo did not.

Reduced cognitive processing speed, which can slow thinking and learning, has long been associated with advancing age.

The study, in which participants from both groups took a battery of memory tests before and after the interventions, appears in the current issue of Rejuvenation Research.

“After two months, test results showed modest improvements in two measures of cognitive processing speed for those taking NT-020 compared to those taking placebo,” said Small, a professor in USF’s School of Aging Studies.

“Processing speed is most often affected early on in the course of cognitive aging. Successful performance in processing tasks often underlies more complex cognitive outcomes, such as memory and verbal ability.”

Blueberries, a major ingredient in the NT-020 formula, are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic, or natural phenol substructure.

“The basis for the use of polyphenol-rich nutritional supplements as a moderator of age-related cognitive decline is the age-related increase in oxidative stress and inflammation,” said study co-principal investigator Paula C. Bickford, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair, and senior research career scientist at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.

“Non-vitamin polyphenols are the most abundant modulators of oxidative stress and inflammation in our diet. NT-020 is 95 percent polyphenols.”

One of the main ingredients of the supplement, called NT-20, is extracted from blueberries.

In several preclinical trials, researchers gave aging laboratory rats NT-020 to see if it boosted memory and other cognitive performance by promoting the health of neurons in the aging brain.

Those studies demonstrated that NT-020 promoted the growth of stem cells in the brain, produced an overall rejuvenating effect, benefitted animals with simulated stroke, and led to better cognitive performance.

The researchers plan future clinical trials with longer intervention periods so that the optimal time for taking the formula may be better understood.

Researchers also speculate that if the study had included participants who were less healthy cognitively, or those with memory impairments, they may have observed “more robust findings.”

“In the future, having markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as brain-based measures of functioning, may allow us to identify the manner by which this compound, as well as others, may influence functioning,” they concluded.

The NT-020 formula was patented by the University of South Florida, in partnership with the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, and licensed to Natura Therapeutics, Inc. The supplement is commercially available as NutraStem®.

The study was supported by a grant from the University of South Florida Neuroscience Collaborative to Small and Bickford. Bickford is a co-founder of Natura Therapeutics, Inc.

Jan 9

Alzheimer’s and Art Therapy


Art therapy, whether done in a community setting or at home, provides an enriched environment that can excite the imagination of individuals with dementia.
When Alzheimer’s disease strips individuals of verbal skills, this recreational activity provides an alternative means by which they can express themselves in a non-threatening and comfortable way. And it can also help individuals recover the use of motor skills in the same manner as physical rehabilitation.
alzheimer’s art therapy
Moreover, art therapists informally report the effectiveness of art making. Some individuals crawl out of their shells. Others, unable to communicate through words, express delight, appear more relaxed or exhibit less behavioral problems. Together in a group setting, participants often develop a newfound sense of camaraderie.
For families, art offers a viable activity that can bring family members together via a new channel of expression especially when words no longer work. It might be just the interaction for younger children who are frightened by the illness.
How to be most effective?
Keep it simple. Painting and sculpting are activities most individuals with dementia can accomplish.
Evoke memories. Suggest drawing the family farm, a snowman or other images that are familiar or can evoke childhood memories.
Play it safe. Only use materials that would be harmless if swallowed. Check all labels and only buy paints and other materials that are non-toxic. Homemade clay and paint are preferable to store-bought versions because they can be made with ingredients that are edible.
Select stimulating materials. Individuals in mid-to-late stage dementia often respond best to brightly colored paints and organic materials such as homemade clay. Other objects like cardboard candy boxes, balls of yarn, old photograph albums, papier-mache and pieces of material also go over well.
Create a comfortable setting. Play music in the background—soothing, but not distracting. Provide lighting that is adequate, but not too bright.
Be positive. Aim for no-failure activities. In addition to being positive reinforcements, compliments, such as “terrific” and “great job,” can help keep individuals focused.
Talk about the artwork. If your loved one is still verbal, ask about the artwork or a favorite color. Open-ended questions will tap into memories, spark conversations and encourage socialization. Use your knowledge about the individual, such as past hobbies, former professions and family life.
Start a gallery. Hanging up artwork, whether on the refrigerator of your home or the hallway of a long-term care facility, offers more opportunities for socialization and reminiscence. Plus, it goes a long way toward making the artist feel good.
Contributed by Elizabeth Cockey, a Baltimore-based art therapist and consultant to healthcare facilities about the utilization of art therapy
For more information, connect with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s licensed social workers. Click here or call 866.AFA.8484. Real People. Real Care.

Dec 4

Simple Exercise Can Help People with Dementia


By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on December 6, 2013

A new review of clinical research suggests that simple exercise may benefit older people with dementia.

Exercise works by improving people’s cognitive abilities and enhancing their ability to carry out daily activities.

The study updates a review carried out in 2008, when only four trials on the effects of exercise in older people with dementia were available.

In the updated review, data from eight trials involving 329 people showed that exercise could improve cognitive functioning.

Data from six studies involving 289 people showed that exercise could improve the ability of older people with dementia to carry out daily activities, such as walking short distances or getting up from a chair.

The systematic review is published in The Cochrane Library.

However, the authors of the review say that more evidence is needed to understand how exercise could reduce the burden on family caregivers and health systems.

Dementia affects the brain in different ways and is associated with effects on memory and personality. And as people are living longer, rates of dementia are expected to rise sharply in the coming decades.

It is thought that exercise might be useful in treating dementia or slowing its progression, through improvements in the ability to carry out everyday tasks, and positive effects on mental processes such as memory and attention, collectively described as cognitive functioning.

Exercise may therefore indirectly benefit family caregivers and the health care system by reducing some of the burden of dementia.

“In our previous review, we were unable to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of exercise in older people with dementia, due to a shortage of appropriate trials,” said researcher Dorothy Forbes.

“Following this new review, we are now able to conclude that there is promising evidence for exercise programs improving cognition and the ability to carry out daily activities. However, we do still need to be cautious about how we interpret these findings.”

The researchers remain cautious because there were substantial differences among the results of individual trials.

In addition, they did not find enough evidence to determine whether exercise improved challenging behaviors or depression in older people with dementia.

They were unable to come to any conclusions regarding quality of life, or benefits for family caregivers and health systems, because there was not enough evidence.

However, the researchers suggest that if more evidence becomes available in future, it may help to address the question of whether exercise can help people with dementia remain at home for longer.

“Clearly, further research is needed to be able to develop best practice guidelines to enable healthcare providers to advise people with dementia living at home or in institutions,” said Forbes.

“We also need to understand what level and intensity of exercise is beneficial for someone with dementia.”

Source: Wiley

Oct 29

Ways to Keep Your Memory Sharp With Age


Clear thinking and memory are examples of what doctors call cognitive abilities. Since the human brain peaks in size at about age 20 and then starts to shrink, you might think that by age 70 or 80, you’d be lucky to remember your name. The good news is that memory loss is not inevitable. “There are examples of people who have lived to 123 years of age who died with completely intact memories and no evidence of neuropathology,” said Sam Gandy, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Here are six ways to stay sharp as a tack despite your shrinking brain.

1.Physical Exercise
PhD, senior professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University in College Station, put exercise at the top of his memory improvement list. Professor Klemm is the author the book Memory Power 101. “Get plenty of aerobic exercise, at least 20 minutes every other day,” said Klemm. People who stay physically fit tend to stay mentally sharp and hold their cognitive abilities well into their seventies and eighties. A 2012 study of 691 seniors in the journal Neurology found that seniors who reported high levels of physical activity at age 70 had less brain shrinkage at age 73 than seniors who reported less physical activity. Exercise may decrease memory loss by improving blood flow to the brain.

2.Brain Exercise
Train your attentiveness and focus. The most common mental problem with aging is distractibility, which inevitably interferes with memory. An example is when you open the refrigerator door and suddenly realize you forgot what you went to the fridge for,” said Klemm. He recommends challenging your brain with games like chess or Sudoku. Dr. Gandy recommends puzzles and memory training. A 2013 study published in the journal PLOS One found that seniors who played just 10 hours of a mind-challenging video game had significant improvement in cognitive abilities.

3. Learn a New Skill
Some research shows that learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument may help prevent memory loss and improve cognitive abilities. A 2011 study published in the journal Neuropsychology found that people who had instrumental musical training retained their memory and had less cognitive decline with age. The study included 70 seniors between age 60 and 83. The study found that the more years of musical training a person had, the better their cognitive performance was with age.

4. Be More Sociable
Both Klemm and Gandy agree that social engagement is important in preventing memory loss. “Social engagement, along with physical and mental stimulation, all release substances in the brain that strengthen nerve connections called synapses,” said Gandy. A 2012 study published in the journal Neuropsychology followed 952 seniors for 12 years to see if social engagement protected seniors from memory loss and decline in communication skills. They concluded that being socially active reduced these declines and that seniors who showed declines tended to become less socially engaged.

5. Get Your Antioxidants
Antioxidant vitamins may benefit memory by blocking free radicals that contribute to cell aging. Over the years, some large studies have found that antioxidant vitamins C and E may protect against cognitive decline. Gandy said that vitamins could help but cautions that they only help in cases of vitamin deficiency. You can also get plenty of antioxidants naturally in your diet. “They’re in any dark-colored fruit, berry, or vegetable. Also, take vitamin D3 and resveratrol pills,” advised Klemm.

6. Learn to Meditate
Stress and anxiety may decrease memory and cognitive ability, so take steps to reduce these negatives. “Take up meditation, yoga, or another type of mind-body exercise that reduces stress,” said Klemm. A 2010 study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that just four days of meditation training could significantly reduce anxiety and improve memory and cognition. In the study, 24 volunteers took meditation training and 25 listened to a recorded book. Both groups had improved mood, but the meditation group also had better memory, less stress, and clearer thinking.

Oct 19

Internet Therapy May Ease Postpartum Depression


By JANICE WOOD Associate News Editor
New research reveals that postpartum depression can be treated effectively using online therapy.

Researchers at the University of Exeter in England teamed with online forum Netmums in two studies to investigate the feasibility of an Internet-based Behavioral Action treatment for postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression (PND).

The researchers noted that between 10 and 30 percent of new mothers are affected by postpartum depression, but many cases go unreported and few women seek help.

The study found that mothers who received the Internet-based treatment reported better results for depression, work and social impairment. The mothers also reported better anxiety scores immediately after they received the treatment, according to the researchers.

Furthermore, they reported better results for depression six months after treatment, the researchers noted.

The results, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, indicate that Internet-based treatment could have a positive effect on postpartum depression as a whole, providing new mothers with support at times that are convenient to them. It also allows them to complete a course of therapy, the researchers said.

“The high number of cases of PND, and the comparatively poor take-up of help from those affected by it, are worrying,” said Heather O’Mahen, Ph.D., from the University of Exeter, who led the study.

She noted that this study, coupled with another recently published study by the same research team that looked at a self-help version of the treatment delivered online, are the first to investigate “the effectiveness of using an Internet-based therapy to provide mums with PND with the support they would have traditionally received in a clinic-based environment. The results are enough to convince us that such an approach is indeed a feasible one.”

“Our hope is that this will allow more women to access and benefit from support, with all the knock-on positives that come from that — happier families, improved quality of life for mums, and a reduction in the demands such cases can bring to stretched health services around the world,” she said.

“This treatment is an accessible and potentially cost-effective option, and one that could easily be incorporated into mental healthcare provision.”

For the study, the researchers designed a 12-session, modular, Internet BA treatment that was supported by telephone calls with a mental health worker. A total of 249 mothers were recruited via the UK parenting site

The mothers received information about the program through Netmums newsletter advertisements, emails and online advertisements. They completed online forms and were asked questions about their mood in a telephone interview with a research assistant.

Of those, 83 met the criteria for “major depressive disorder,” the researchers report. These women were randomly split into two groups: One received “treatment as usual,” while the other group participated in the Internet-based treatment, according to the researchers.

Women in the Internet treatment group could sign onto the online program and chose modules relevant to their needs, such as “ being a good enough mum,” “changing roles and relationships,” “sleep” and “communication.” The women had weekly telephone sessions with a mental health worker who helped support the women through the program.

Mothers reported favoring therapy over drug-based solutions, especially if they are breastfeeding.

The researchers add that for many new mothers, accessing traditional clinic-based therapy is difficult because “transportation, childcare, variable feeding and nap times all conspire to make it hard to keep appointments.”

“It is critical to provide new mothers with treatments that work for them,” the researchers concluded.

Source: University of Exeter

Oct 18

A new discovery in the treatment of degenerative nerve cell disease has been characterized as a “turning point” in the fight against diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. In tests on laboratory mice, deaths from what is known as prion disease was completely prevented leading Professor Robert Morris from King’s College, London to say that it represents a momentous milestone in the treatment and possible prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. The newly developed compound inhibits a cell’s incorrectly activated defense mechanisms that would otherwise shut down certain protein production activity ultimately killing the nerve cell. Published in Science Translational Medicine (, the study showed that mice with this type of prion disease developed severe memory and movement problems and died within 12 weeks. But when the mice were given the compound, there was no sign of brain tissue wasting away and they survived. Much more work needs to be done. There are side effects that include pancreatic involvement such that it triggered a mild diabetic reaction and associated weight loss. Professor Morris cautioned that a cure for Alzheimer’s was not, “imminent” but if the study results are validated by additional research, it certainly gives a renewed sense of optimism that treatment for nerve disease may be entering a brand new and exciting world of possibilities. – See more at:

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