Category Archives: brain function

Risk Factors for Dementia May Vary with Age

Which vascular risk factors are associated with the risk of developing dementia may vary with age. A new study shows that among people around age 55, the risk of developing dementia over the next 10 years was increased in those with diabetes and high blood pressure.

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For people around 65 years old, the risk was higher in those with heart disease, and for those in their 70s, diabetes and stroke. For 80-year-olds, the risk of developing dementia was increased in those with diabetes and a history of stroke, while taking blood pressure medications decreased the risk.

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MSU research could lead to new Alzheimer’s treatments

Working with tiny bacteria, Michigan State University researchers led by Lee Kroos have made a discovery that could have big implications for biology. 

The researchers revealed a new way that nature can inhibit or switch off important proteins known as intramembrane proteases — pronounced “pro tea aces” — which the team reported April 26th in the journal eLife.

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Although the Spartans made this finding using a model organism, a microbe known as Bacillus subtilis, this type of protein is highly conserved, which is how evolutionary biologists say, “it’s everywhere.” 

These types of proteases are found in organisms that span the kingdoms of life, from single-celled bacteria to people. In fact, the first intramembrane protease was discovered in humans in 1997 and perhaps the best-known member of this family, named gamma-secretase, is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. 

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“Good cholesterol’ particles may have a role in Alzheimer’s prevention

First-ever study to measure high-density lipoprotein particle numbers in spinal fluid led by Keck School of Medicine of USC

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Medical guidelines meant to reduce risk for heart disease focus on levels of cholesterol in the blood, including low-density lipoproteins (LDL), labeled “bad cholesterol,” and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), labeled as “good.” Now, a new study suggests an important connection between good cholesterol particles in cerebrospinal fluid and brain health as well.

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC took samples of cerebrospinal fluid from people aged 60 and older and measured the amount of small HDL particles in each sample. The team found that a higher number of these particles in the fluid is associated with two key indicators that the particles might have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease.

One indicator is better performance on cognitive tests. The other indicator is higher circulating levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of a particular peptide — like a protein, but smaller — called amyloid beta 42. Although that peptide contributes to Alzheimer’s disease when it misfolds and clumps onto neurons, an increased concentration circulating around the brain and spine is actually linked to lower risk for the disease.

“This study represents the first time that small HDL particles in the brain have been counted,” said Hussein Yassine, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “They may be involved with the clearance and excretion of the peptides that form the amyloid plaques we see in Alzheimer’s disease, so we speculate that there could be a role for these small HDL particles in prevention.”

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What about ‘senior moments?’

Merriam Webster defines a senior moment as follows an instance of momentary forgetfulness or confusion that is attributed to the aging process.

For the record, senior moments are not restricted to senior citizens. Everyone gets them. However, they are more troubling to us seniors. Younger people just think it is funny forgetting something momentarily. Older folks are scared spitless because they fear they have Alzheimer’s.

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As a SuperAger, I have to go in to Northwestern University for about a two hour battery of tests every year to measure my brain functions including memory. Mine was last week.

Our local hospital had a program called Healthy Transitions for folks over 55. It explained aspects of aging and what we could do to prepare the coming changesin our bodies – physical and mental. I attended numerous presentations, but the ones that were standing room only had to do with cognitive decline. It was clear to me that everyone ‘of a certain age’ is concerned about their brain functioning into old age.

One of the questions I was asked at the SuperAger test was whether my memory seemed to have declined or was it the same as 10 years ago. I said that I honestly couldn’t say. What I could say was that I had developed certain techniques that helped me to ‘not forget’- or have senior moments.

The first technique concerns, for example, forgetting where I put my keys. I don’t ever forget because I always put my keys on my dresser. I never throw them carelessly on the counter, or the table or whatever surface is handy when I come home. That is a recipe for disaster. When I come in from riding my bike, the first thing I do is to take my keys out of my back pocket and go put them on my dresser. Then I finish with my transitioning into being home, or showering, etc. Because of that technique I always know where my keys are.

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Scientists discover genetic variants that speed up and slow down brain aging

Researchers from a USC-led consortium have discovered 15 “hot spots” in the genome that either speed up brain aging or slow it down — a finding that could provide new drug targets to resist developmental delays, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative brain disorders, according to the University of Southern California (USC).

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The research appeared online in Nature Neuroscience.

“The big game-changer here is discovering locations on the chromosome that speed up or slow down brain aging in worldwide populations. These can quickly become new drug targets,” said Paul Thompson of USC, a lead author on the study and the co-founder and director of the ENIGMA Consortium. “Through our AI4AD [Artificial Intelligence for Alzheimer’s Disease] initiative we even have a genome-guided drug repurposing program to target these and find new and existing drugs that help us age better.”

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Researchers boost human mental function with brain stimulation

Study indicates this method could be a new approach to treating a variety of severe mental illnesses.

Researchers show it is possible to improve specific human brain functions related to self-control and mental flexibility by merging artificial intelligence with targeted electrical brain stimulation.

In a pilot human study, researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital show it is possible to improve specific human brain functions related to self-control and mental flexibility by merging artificial intelligence with targeted electrical brain stimulation.

Alik Widge, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and member of the Medical Discovery Team on Addiction at the U of M Medical School, is the senior author of the research published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. The findings come from a human study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston among 12 patients undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy — a procedure that places hundreds of tiny electrodes throughout the brain to record its activity and identify where seizures originate.

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Greater Exposure to Estrogen May Protect Women’s Brain Regions Vulnerable to Alzheimer’s

The drop in estrogen levels that occurs with menopause brings declines in the volumes of “gray matter,” the cellular matter of the brain, in key brain regions that are also affected in Alzheimer’s disease. But a new study from Weill Cornell Medicine researchers, in collaboration with the University of Arizona, suggests that greater cumulative exposure to estrogen in life, for example from having had more children or from having taken menopause hormone therapy, may counter this brain-shrinking effect.

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The findings, reported Nov. 3 in Neurology, come from an analysis of personal histories, MRI scans and cognitive tests on 99 women in their late 40s to late 50s. The researchers confirmed an earlier finding linking menopause to lower gray matter volume (GMV) in brain areas that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s. But they also linked indicators of higher overall estrogen exposure, such as a longer span of reproductive years (menarche to menopause), more children and the use of menopause hormone therapy and hormonal contraceptives, to higher GMV in some of these brain areas.

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Primary care doctors can help preserve brain health – AHA

Primary care doctors can play an important role in helping to preserve brain health by encouraging healthy behaviors and addressing risk factors associated with cognitive decline, according to a new scientific report.

The American Heart Association statement published in the journal Stroke outlines seven lifestyle targets and six risk factors for brain health that primary care doctors should address in adults of all ages. The statement also has been endorsed by the American Academy of Neurology as an educational tool for neurologists.

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As the nation ages, preserving brain health has become a growing concern. Mild cognitive impairment affects an estimated 1 in 5 Americans age 65 and older; 1 in 7 has dementia – a number expected to triple by 2050.

“Primary care is the right home for practice-based efforts to prevent or postpone cognitive decline,” Ronald Lazar, chair of the scientific statement writing group, said in a news release. Lazar directs the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Prevention doesn’t start in older age; it exists along the health care continuum from pediatrics to adulthood,” he said. “The evidence in this statement demonstrates that early attention to these factors improves later life outcomes.”

The statement asks primary care doctors to integrate brain health into their treatment of adults guided by the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7, a collection of lifestyle targets shown to help achieve ideal heart and brain health. These include managing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels; increasing physical activity; eating a healthy diet; losing weight; and not smoking.

The statement also asks them to assess their patients’ risk factors for cognitive health, including depression, social isolation, excessive alcohol use, sleep disorders, lower education levels and hearing loss.

“Scientists are learning more about how to prevent cognitive decline before changes to the brain have begun,” Lazar, a professor of neurology and neurobiology, said. “We have compiled the latest research and found Life’s Simple 7 plus other factors like sleep, mental health and education are a more comprehensive lifestyle strategy that optimizes brain health in addition to cardiovascular health.”

Dr. Deborah Levine, one of the statement’s co-authors, said it is never too soon to target risk factors for ideal heart and brain health. It’s also never too late.

“For example, lower blood pressure levels reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults,” she said. “In adults of all ages, the metrics in Life’s Simple 7 prevent stroke, and stroke increases the risk of dementia by more than twofold.”

Additional risk factors can help physicians identify which patients may need special attention, said Levine, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

For example, “Primary care doctors can help their patients reduce dementia risk by identifying and aggressively treating vascular risk factors like high blood pressure. Black and Hispanic individuals, women and individuals with lower educational levels appear at higher risk for dementia, so these high-risk groups are a top priority,” Levine said.

According to the statement, recent research shows high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking in adulthood and midlife increase the odds of cognitive decline in middle age. And they accelerate cognitive decline in older age.

“Many people think of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and other risk factors as affecting only heart health, yet these very same risk factors affect our brain health,” Lazar said. “Patients might be more likely to pay attention to the importance of addressing modifiable risk factors if they understood the links.”

The statement defines brain health using the term cognition, which includes memory, thinking, reasoning, communication and problem-solving.

Together, these functions enable people to navigate the everyday world, according to the report. The ability to think, solve problems, remember, perceive and communicate are crucial to successful living; their loss can lead to helplessness and dependency.

“Studies have shown that these domains are impacted by factors that are within our control to change,” Lazar said. “Prevention and mitigation are important, because once people have impaired cognition, the current treatment options are very limited.”

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Besides vision, dry eye disease negatively affects physical and mental health – Study

Patients suffering from dry eye disease symptoms have a lower quality of life compared to those without symptoms, a new study reports. The findings showed that patients with the condition reported negative effects on visual function, their ability to carry out daily activities and their work productivity.

Dry eye disease is a common condition and a frequent reason for patients to seek medical care. It can affect people of any age but is most prevalent in women and in older people. Symptoms include irritation and redness in the eyes, blurred vision, and a sensation of grittiness or a foreign body in the eye. It has been reported that up to a third of adults over 65 years old have the condition, although the actual number is likely to be higher as there is no established diagnostic test and people with mild symptoms are less likely to report them to their doctor.

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Treatment often involves prescriptions of artificial tears, ocular lubricants and astringents, which come at a cost to the NHS; in 2014, 6.4 million items were prescribed at a cost of over £27 million.

This new study, led by the University of Southampton, set out to explore how dry eye disease affects the lives of adults in the UK through an online survey of one thousand patients with the condition and further one thousand without. Participants undertook a questionnaire from the National Eye Institute about their visual function and a EuroQol questionnaire on health-related quality of life. Those who declared that they experienced dry eye disease also answered further questions to assess the severity of their symptoms.

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Prediabetes may be linked to worse brain health

People with prediabetes, whose blood sugar levels are higher than normal, may have an increased risk of cognitive decline and vascular dementia, according to a new study led by University College London (UCL) researchers.

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For the study, published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank of 500,000 people aged 58 years on average, and found that people with higher than normal blood sugar levels were 42% more likely to experience cognitive decline over an average of four years, and were 54% more likely to develop vascular dementia over an average of eight years (although absolute rates of both cognitive decline and dementia were low).

The associations remained true after other influential factors had been taken into account – including age, deprivation, smoking, BMI and whether or not participants had cardiovascular disease.

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Diet modifications – including more wine and cheese – may help reduce cognitive decline – Study

The foods we eat may have a direct impact on our cognitive acuity in our later years. This is the key finding of an Iowa State University research study spotlighted in an article published in the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 

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The study was spearheaded by principal investigator, Auriel Willette, an assistant professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Brandon Klinedinst, a Neuroscience PhD candidate working in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department at Iowa State. The study is a first-of-its-kind large scale analysis that connects specific foods to later-in-life cognitive acuity.

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Insights into Newly Characterized Form of Dementia

Working with their colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers at the University of Kentucky have found that they can differentiate between sub-types of dementia inducing brain disease.

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“For the first time we created criteria that could differentiate between frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and a common Alzheimer’s ‘mimic’ called LATE disease,” said Dr. Peter Nelson of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky. He says they validated the criteria rigorously. The study was recently published in BRAIN: A Journal of Neurology. The first author of the paper was John L. Robinson from the University of Pennsylvania and the corresponding author was Nelson.

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Brain waves used to predict future pain sensitivity

The living brain is constantly producing regular rhythmic patterns of activity, which can be compared to musical notes. Scientists at the University of Birmingham in the UK, and the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in the U.S., have successfully demonstrated that one particularly prevalent pattern of brain activity, called alpha waves, strongly relates to the body’s susceptibility or resilience to pain.

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Alpha waves oscillate between 8-14 Hz, with the peak frequency varying across individuals. The researchers demonstrated how a measurement of an individual’s alpha wave frequency can be used as a reliable pain indicator.

The study, led by graduate student Andrew Furman and published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that these alpha waves could be used to help clinicians understand how susceptible a patient to experience severe pain post-surgery.

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Schooling critical for cognitive health throughout life

Investing time in education in childhood and early adulthood expands career opportunities and provides progressively higher salaries. It also conveys certain benefits to health and longevity.

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A new analysis published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI), however, reveals that even though a more extensive formal education forestalls the more obvious signs of age-related cognitive deficits, it does not lessen the rate of aging-related cognitive declines. Instead, people who have gone further in school attain, on average, a higher level of cognitive function in early and middle adult adulthood, so the initial effects of cognitive aging are initially less obvious and the most severe impairments manifest later than they otherwise would have.

“The total amount of formal education that people receive is related to their average levels of cognitive functioning throughout adulthood,” said Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, a researcher with the University of Texas, Austin, and coauthor on the paper. “However, it is not appreciably related to their rates of aging-related cognitive declines.” Continue reading

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Lutein for the Eyes (and the Brain) – Tufts

Must confess that before encountering this item on Lutein, in the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, I was ignorant of it.

Lutein is just one of the more than 600 phytochemicals in the carotenoid family. These compounds are pigments that give plants their orange, yellow, and red hues, but they are more than just good looking: carotenoids, including lutein, have antioxidant and other health-promoting properties. “What makes lutein unique among the carotenoids is that it is selectively taken up into the eye and the brain,” says Elizabeth Johnson, a former scientist with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

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Eye Health: Lutein is not considered an essential nutrient; there is no evidence you will die without it. But as Americans are living longer, they are experiencing more age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, the two major causes of visual impairment in the U.S. It is much better to prevent rather than treat these diseases, and research on lutein demonstrates that diet could help. “The eye is very vulnerable to oxidative stress because it is constantly bombarded by the sun’s rays,” says Johnson. “Lutein and its isomer zeaxanthin are concentrated in the lens of the eye and the macula of the retina, where their antioxidant effects may help to prevent damage.” Continue reading

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Memory loss reversed or abated in those with cognitive decline

Cognitive decline is a major concern of the aging population. Already, Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 5.4 million Americans and 30 million people globally. Without effective prevention and treatment, the prospects for the future are bleak. By 2050, it is estimated that 160 million people globally will have the disease, including 13 million Americans, leading to potential bankruptcy of the Medicare system. Unlike several other chronic illnesses, Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise–recent estimates suggest that Alzheimer’s disease has become the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Since its first description over 100 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease has been without effective treatment.

While researchers continue to seek out a cure, it is becoming clear that there are effective treatment options. More and more research supports the conclusion that Alzheimer’s disease is not a disease of only Beta Amyloid plaques and Tao tangles but a complex and systemic disease. In this study of patients with varying levels of cognitive decline, it is demonstrated how a precision and personalized approach results in either stabilization or improvement in memory.

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Affirmativ Health sought to determine whether a comprehensive and personalized program, designed to mitigate risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease could improve cognitive and metabolic function in individuals experiencing cognitive decline. Findings provided evidence that this approach can improve risk factor scores and stabilize cognitive function.

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