More insights on Alzheimer’s disease – how some brains are protected

A feature of the brain’s neurons called dendritic spines may protect against dementia, according to new findings.

Neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques appear in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, but not everyone who has these formations goes on to develop the disease. Between 30 and 50 percent of patients with the plaques and tangles do not develop Alzheimer’s disease. Why not? Scientists have been looking for the reasons.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found the answer may lie in dendritic spines. The dendritic spines of a neuron help it make connections with other neurons and send information. These parts of the neuron may protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Dendrites, the branched projections of a neuron that transfer electrochemical stimulation from other neural cells to the cell body, have small membranous protrustions called dendritic spines. Each dendritic spine receives input from a single axon at the synapse. The loss of dendritic spines results in the loss of synapses, which can impair cognition. Logically, subects with normal brains would have healthy dendritic spines, and those with dementia would not. The researchers tested the structures and published the results in the journal Annals of Neurology.

The scientists compared dendritic spines in 21 patients with Alzheimer’s, 8 patients who had Alzheimer’s brain changes but no symptoms, and 12 healthy patients. Using bright-field microscopy, Professor Jeremy Herskowitz and the team took images of the dendritic spines, then used the images to create a 3-D digital reconstruction.

The healthy control subjects had more dendritic spines than the subjects with Alzheimer’s. The subjects with Alzheimer’s brain changes but no symptoms also had more spines than the Alzheimer’s subjects — and almost the same dendritic spine density as the healthy subjects. The group with pathology but no symptoms group had very long dendritic spines, longer than both the other groups.

Longer dendritic spines might indicate greater neuroplasticity — the capacity to change and form new neural connections. Increased neuroplasticity could enable the neurons to bypass plaques and tangles, and still communicate with other neurons. If so, this phenomenon could explain why some people who have Alzheimer’s pathology do not show cognitive impairment.

The research suggests that it may be possible for the brain to rebuild neurons. The information gained in the study may help scientists to develop new therapies, especially when brain changes are detected before symptoms appear.

In 2014, a study at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, published in the journal Science, showed that getting sleep after learning helps neurons form connections, through dendritic branches, that may help brain cells pass information to each other and facilitate long-term memory.

The scientists observed mice that were genetically modified so a particular protein in their brain cells would fluoresce when viewed with a laser scanning microscope. The fluorescence allowed the team to track the growth of new spines along each branch of a dendrite. The mice sprouted new dendritic spines within 6 hours of learning a new task. Different structural changes occurred for different types of learning.

Healthier and more numerous dendritic spines may be a genetic trait, but the brain also may respond to healthy diet and lifestyle. According to Medical News Today, research suggests that as many as a third of dementia cases can be prevented by regular exercise and an active social life.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia, and care choices, see the Guide To Long Term Care.

 

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Urgent Need for Alzheimer’s Disease Study Volunteers

Many researchers are working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But they have run into an obstacle recently: a shortage of volunteers for clinical trials.

There are more than 100 research studies needing around 50,000 volunteers to help. Many studies have been funded, but there are not enough participants.

177851075The trials do not necessarily require people who are elderly or who suffer from dementia, and are not all drug trials. Some studies require participants to do cognitive tests on home computers. Some record data on lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, or genetic risk factors.

There are studies where the volunteers try out wearable technology. All these tests collect information that can help scientists find ways to help people with Alzheimer’s.

Study subjects can benefit from participating. For example, some people who have Alzheimer’s disease may find a treatment that works. Some people may discover they have a genetic risk of dementia or already are in the early stages, and get prevention or treatment when it is most effective. Many volunteers in these studies will receive medical care for free. Also, some of the drug trials pay participants.

For people with dementia who are isolated, taking part in a study may help them socially. They can make friends with people running the studies and be part of a team. They can also feel good about helping to advance science and benefit others.

Some of the problems scientists have in recruiting study participants: In some studies both the dementia patient and a care partner must be involved. It’s harder to enroll two people. Some drug trials exclude people with certain medical conditions from participating.

Many drug studies require subjects in the early stages of dementia; at this stage there are few, or no, symptoms, so the disease hasn’t yet been identified, making it hard to find subjects.

There are sometimes legal obstacles if a dementia patient is not considered competent enough to give consent. And there are risks with experimental therapies, even though animal studies and FDA reviews are done before human trials.

For information on upcoming trials and on volunteering, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website, they have TrialMatch, a free database where you can find studies that may be right for you.

 

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Dancing Benefits The Aging Brain

Doctors have long recommended physical exercise to reduce or delay the onset of dementia as people age. But a new study indicates that dancing may give even greater benefits than other forms of exercise.

Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld compared the effects of different kinds of exercise on volunteers with an average age of 68. Over 18 months, participants took part in either traditional fitness training with repetitive exercises like cycling or Nordic walking, or dance lessons which featured something new each week.

The study measured changes in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is connected with learning, memory, and balance, and is affected by Alzheimer’s and similar diseases. In both groups, the hippocampus region of the brain increased. The dancers had a noticeable improvement in balance.

The dance routines varied and included jazz, square dance, line dance, and Latin. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Other studies have found similar benefits to dancing:

A study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that brain-stimulating activities such as reading, writing, and doing puzzles lowered the risk of dementia by 47 percent. This study did not find that regular bicycling, swimming, or team sports lowered the risk of dementia significantly. But ballroom dancing reduced the risk of developing dementia by 67 percent!

A study from Korea found that seniors who learned to dance the Cha Cha improved their memory and cognitive function over six months when compared to controls. A study from Canada found that seniors who danced the tango twice a week improved their cognitive scores.

The challenge of constantly learning a variety of new things may be one of the keys to the success of dance in improving mental ability. Dance requires a combination of mental and physical activity – dancers must remember the steps and executive them in rhythm. Also, dance is usually accompanied by music, and music has also been found to benefit people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Music stimulates memories and positive emotions, and body response to rhythms; music can also have the effect of making people more outgoing and sociable.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia, see the Alzheimer’s Section of Guide To Long Term Care.

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Eye Scan for Alzheimer’s

Scanning the eyes is a new way to detect Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California say Alzheimer’s affects the retina, in the back of the eye, in a similar way to how it affects the brain. A high-definition eye scan can show the buildup of toxic proteins that indicate Alzheimer’s.

The plaque showing in the retina matches the plaque in a corresponding part of the brain. Through repeated scans of the retina over time, doctors will be able monitor the progression of the disease.

At one time, the only way to diagnose Alzheimer’s was by examining the brain after a person died. Now doctors can use brain scans to diagnose the disease in living patients, but these scans are expensive and invasive. The non-invasive eye scans will help doctors to detect the disease earlier, making it possible to intervene with medications and lifestyle changes before more symptoms appear.

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If you do not plan for your long term care who will? See the Guide To Long Term Care for more information on Alzheimer’s and how to prepare for long term care needs.

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U.S. Congress increases money for Alzheimer’s research

Congress just increased the budget for Alzheimer’s research by $400 million for fiscal year 2017. In 2016 the budget for Alzheimer’s at the National Institutes of Health was about $910 million.

The number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach 14 million by 2050. It is estimated that for every $100 that goes into research, around $16,000 is spent in caring for people with the disease.

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Money for research has greatly improved the outlook for heart disease and cancer patients. In 2017, health and long term care costs for Alzheimer’s came to around $259 billion in the United States. That number is expected to rise to $511 billion by 2020. Since not finding a cure is expensive, more funding for Alzheimer’s research is obviously needed.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and long term care, see the Guide To Long Term Care.

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Mineral water may help Alzheimer’s

The silicon in mineral water may help Alzheimer’s by removing aluminum

Aluminium is widely present in our environment, and we are exposed to it in items such as bread, tea, wine, aspirin and other drugs, baby food, cookware, and cosmetics. It is even in the air we breathe. Aluminum can enter the iron transport system in the bloodstream and bypass the body’s natural barriers to toxins, accumulating in our bodies and brains.

Research has shown that aluminum exposure can cause the neurofibrillary tangles found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminum toxicity has also been linked to Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological diseases.

However, drinking mineral water that contains silicic acid, or silica, can help us excrete aluminum. The recommended amount of silica is 10 mg/day to protect against the adverse effects of aluminum absorption.

Clinical trials by Professor Christopher Exley of Keele University showed that drinking about a liter every day of mineral water containing 35 mg/liter of silicon sped up the removal of aluminium through the kidneys. After thirteen weeks, subjects showed significant reductions in the amount of aluminum in their bodies, even up to 70%. Along with the removal of aluminum came significant improvements in cognitive function and mental health, without side effects.

The silica follows water molecules through the gut wall and once it gets into the bloodstream, it unites with aluminium to form hydroxyaluminosilicate. This form of aluminium can be easily filtered by the kidneys and excreted in the urine.

The mineral water studied contained 35mg of silicon per liter. Brands of mineral water that contain silica include Fiji, which has 45 mg/liter, and Volvic, which has 20 mg/liter.

There are also foods naturally high in silica: brown rice, oats, millet, barley, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, red beets, asparagus, bananas, green beans, and carrots.

For information on Alzheimer’s care, see the Guide To Long Term Care

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Calls to clear the way for research on cannabis for Alzheimer’s

According to brain experts, cannabis holds promise as a treatment for the causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s, but federal regulators are blocking the path to a cure. Recent discoveries, along with the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in some states, have brought calls for reforms in the laws that regulate cannabis research.

Researchers found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds in the cannabis plant can help the body remove amyloid beta, the toxic plaque protein linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. The protein causes inflammation and kills neuron cells, causing deterioration of memory.

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California are finding that marijuana extracts may help prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease. Cannabinoids are compounds found in marijuana, which can have medical applications. One study indicated that cannabinoids can relieve amyloid protein buildup and cell damage related to dementia using some of the brain’s own protective measures.

Unlike methods which seek to remove amyloid buildup from the outside of brain cells (such as those currently being explored by pharmaceutical companies), the method explored by Salk researchers works with the brain’s natural endocannabanoids to fight amyloid buildup inside cells, along with the resulting inflammation and cell death, at an earlier stage in the disease.

Endocannabinoids can active switches called receptors in the brain cells. Researchers found that these THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may help protect cells from dying.

Physical activity increases the production of endocannabinoids, which may explain why exercise can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. THC from cannabis is similar in activity to endocannabinoids, and can activate the same receptors.

Marijuana is legal in California, but because the Salk Institute accepts some federal funding, it must abide by federal rules that require approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for any cannabis studies. The DEA classifies marijuana as a schedule I drug, alongside heroin and other dangerous drugs, impeding research that may help treat Alzheimer’s and dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. The bureaucratic approval process can slow down research by months or years. Some observers think that the pharmaceutical industry is creating regulatory obstructions for researchers because cannabis is a natural product and cannot be patented.

Health researchers estimate that one in three seniors will die with dementia. Someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds. In addition to the loss of longevity and quality of life, the financial costs of Alzheimer’s and dementia are significant.

A 2015 study by the National Institutes of Health found that the price of late stage dementia exceeds that of any other disease; a recent estimate of cost was $236 billion for 2016, or around $287,000 annually per person.

Alzheimer’s affects more than five million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health, and is a leading cause of death. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. The number of people with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple during the next 50 years.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit the Guide To Long Term Care

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