Category Archives: brain

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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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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Cognitive decline key factor in predicting life expectancy in Alzheimer’s

Cognitive decline is the biggest factor in determining how long patients with Alzheimer’s Disease will live after being diagnosed, according to a new study from researchers at UT Southwestern. The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, are a first step that could help health care providers provide reliable prediction and planning assistance for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

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Using a National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center dataset on 764 autopsy-confirmed cases, C. Munro Cullum, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neurological Surgery, and first author Jeffrey Schaffert, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in clinical neuropsychology at UT Southwestern, identified seven factors that helped predict life expectancy variances among participants. These factors are the most predictive of how many years of life remain after diagnosis.

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Exercise, Not Just Sudoku for Seniors

Grampa, when you finish that puzzle please slip on your walking shoes and step outside.

A lot of senior citizens are doing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords to ‘exercise their brains’ and slow the aging process. These puzzles can be fun, and they do build puzzle-solving skills which are long-lasting. They are not even half the battle against aging, though.

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“Unless the activities that you’re practicing span a broad spectrum of abilities, then there is not a proven general benefit to these mental fitness programs. So, the idea that any single brain exercise program late in life can act as a quick fix for general mental function is almost entirely faith-based,” Professor Wang said in our post on physical exercise vs mental exercise.

Walking, on the other hand, boosts blood flow to the brain. Medicine.net reported that moderate aerobic exercise helps boost blood flow to the brain.
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Quantum brains sensors could spot dementia

New highly sensitive quantum sensors for the brain may in the future be able to identify brain diseases such as dementia, ALS and Parkinson’s, by spotting a slowing in the speed at which signals travel across the brain. The research findings from a paper led by University of Sussex quantum physicists are published in Scientific Reports journal.

The quantum scanners being developed by the scientists can detect the magnetic fields generated when neurons fire.  Measuring moment-to-moment changes in the brain, they track the speed at which signals move across the brain.  This time-element is important because it means a patient could be scanned twice several months apart to check whether the activity in their brain is slowing down. Such slowing can be a sign of Alzheimer’s or other diseases of the brain.

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In this way, the technology introduces a new method to spot bio-markers of early health problems.

Aikaterini Gialopsou, a doctoral researcher in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex and Brighton and Sussex Medical School is the lead author on the paper. She says of the discovery:

 “We’ve shown for the first time that quantum sensors can produce highly accurate results in terms of both space and time. While other teams have shown the benefits in terms of locating signals in the brain, this is the first time that quantum sensors have proved to be so accurate in terms of the timing of signals too.

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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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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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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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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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