Category Archives: brain function

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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Regular physical activity to enhance cognition in children who need it most

A common school-age stereotype is that smart kids are unathletic. However, as a recent study lead by Associate Professor Keita Kamijo at the University of Tsukuba and Assistant Professor Toru Ishihara at Kobe University shows that physical activity is linked to better cognitive ability, which is in turn related to academic performance in school.

Understanding the effects of physical activity on cognition has been difficult for several reasons. “Previous studies looked at the issue too broadly,” explains Professor Kamijo, “When we broke down the data, we were able to see that physical activity helps children the most if they start out with poor executive function.”

Relationship between baseline performance and pre–post changes in cognitive performance, illustrating the group × baseline performance interaction.

Executive functions refer to three types of cognitive skills. The first is the ability to suppress impulses and inhibit reflex-like behaviors or habits. To assess this ability, children were asked to indicate the color in which words like “red” and “blue” were displayed on a computer screen. This is easy when the words and colors match (“red” displayed in red font), but often requires inhibition of a reflex response when they don’t (“red” displayed in blue font). The second skill is the ability to hold information in working memory and process it. This was evaluated by testing how well children could remember strings of letters that vary in length. The third cognitive skill is mental flexibility. This was measured by asking children to frequently switch the rules for categorizing colored circles and squares from shape-based to color-based.

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Scientists study the link between the gut and Alzheimer’s disease

Do you know that feeling you get in your gut? It turns out your gut may really be trying to tell you something.  Our microbiome – the 100 trillion bacteria and organisms living in our gut – appears to have a profound influence on our health and risk of disease. And early scientific studies show there may be a link between the microbiome and the brain that could impact the risk of Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

The microbiome is a collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live mostly in our intestinal system. They play an important role in digestion and the production of certain vitamins, and they support our immune system. Researchers around the world study the gut microbiome, especially those bacteria unique to individuals, to learn more about their influence on our overall health.

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Aerobics a smart workout for your brain at any age

It’s never too late to lace up some sneakers and work up a sweat for brain health, according to a study published in the May 13, 2020, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study suggests older adults, even couch potatoes, may perform better on certain thinking and memory tests after just six months of aerobic exercise.

“As we all find out eventually, we lose a bit mentally and physically as we age. But even if you start an exercise program later in life, the benefit to your brain may be immense,” said study author Marc J. Poulin, Ph.D., D.Phil., from the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. “Sure, aerobic exercise gets blood moving through your body. As our study found, it may also get blood moving to your brain, particularly in areas responsible for verbal fluency and executive functions. Our finding may be important, especially for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias and brain disease.”

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Genes, cardiovascular health factor into dementia risk

Genes and cardiovascular health each contribute in an additive way to a person’s risk of dementia, U.S. researchers including Sudha Seshadri, MD, and Claudia Satizabal, PhD, of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) reported July 20 in the journal Neurology.

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The study was conducted in 1,211 participants in the Framingham Heart Study and involved collaborators from Boston University.

Participants with a high genetic risk score based on common genetic variants, including having an allele called apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4, were at a 2.6-fold higher risk of developing dementia than subjects who had a low risk score and did not carry the APOE ε4 allele.

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How Diabetes and Obesity Affect the Brain

With more than 30 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, and another 87 million diagnosed with obesity, both conditions have become national epidemics. 

The two diseases cause a number of complications, including neuropathy, which causes damage to the peripheral nerves. Neuropathy is characterized by numbness or tingling and can sometimes be accompanied by pain. 

Brian Callaghan, M.D., the Fovette E. Dush associate professor of neurology, has sounded an alarm through his recent clinical research, which has demonstrated that, in addition to peripheral nerve damagediabetes and obesity can also cause cognitive dysfunction, effecting thinking, reasoning or memory. 

Here, Callaghan discusses his latest work and ways to identify and treat the condition:

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Center for BrainHealth advances understanding of brain connectivity in cannabis users

Researchers at Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, recently examined underlying brain networks in long-term cannabis users to identify patterns of brain connectivity when the users crave or have a desire to consume cannabis. While regional brain activation and static connectivity in response to cravings have been studied before, fluctuations in brain network connectivity had not yet been examined in cannabis users. The findings from this study will help support the development of better treatment strategies for cannabis dependence.

The study was published in the journal of Human Brain Mapping (May 2020) by researchers Francesca Filbey, PhD, professor and director of cognitive neuroscience research of addictive disorders at Center for BrainHealth, Hye Bin Yoo, PhD and Blake Edward Moya.

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Seniors share fewer memories as they tack on years

By the time people reach a certain age, they’ve accumulated enough life experience to have plenty of stories to tell about life “back in their day.”

However, a new study suggests that the older a person is, the less likely they are to share memories of their past experiences. And when they do share memories, they don’t describe them in as much detail as younger people do.

The results of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, echo previous findings from lab-based research suggesting that memory sharing declines with age.

The UArizona study came to the conclusion in a new way: by “eavesdropping” on older adults’ conversations “in the wild.”

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