Tag Archives: cognition

Time until dementia symptoms appear can be estimated via brain scan

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed an approach to estimating when a person who is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, but has no cognitive symptoms, will start showing signs of Alzheimer’s dementia.

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The algorithm, available online in the journal Neurology, uses data from a kind of brain scan known as amyloid positron emission tomography (PET) to gauge brain levels of the key Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta.

In those who eventually develop Alzheimer’s dementia, amyloid silently builds up in the brain for up to two decades before the first signs of confusion and forgetfulness appear. Amyloid PET scans already are used widely in Alzheimer’s research, and this algorithm represents a new way of analyzing such scans to approximate when symptoms will arise. Using a person’s age and data from a single amyloid PET scan, the algorithm yields an estimate of how far a person has progressed toward dementia — and how much time is left before cognitive impairment sets in.

“I perform amyloid PET scans for research studies, and when I tell cognitively normal individuals about positive results, the first question is always, ‘How long do I have until I get dementia?’,” said senior author Suzanne Schindler, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology. “Until now, the answer I’d have to give was something like, ‘You have an increased risk of developing dementia in the next five years.’ But what does that mean? Individuals want to know when they are likely to develop symptoms, not just whether they are at higher risk.”

Schindler and colleagues analyzed amyloid PET scans from 236 people participating in Alzheimer’s research studies through Washington University’s Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center. The participants were an average of 67 years old at the beginning of the study. All participants underwent at least two brain scans an average of 4½ years apart. The researchers applied a widely used metric known as the standard uptake value ratio (SUVR) to the scans to estimate the amount of amyloid in each participant’s brain at each time point.

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10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Your dad just asked the same question he asked — and you answered — a few minutes ago. You realize that it’s not the first time he’s repeated himself or forgotten something you just said. What does this mean? Does he have Alzheimer’s disease?

Memory changes can be scary, both as an older adult experiencing them and as a family member or caregiver noticing them. But it’s important to note that forgetfulness doesn’t necessarily equal Alzheimer’s disease.

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“The red flag is if it’s happening on a consistent basis and is paired with a change in the person’s ability to function,” says Magdalena Bednarczyk, MD, a geriatrician at Rush University Medical Center. “When a patient comes to me for an evaluation, it’s usually because family and friends have noticed uncharacteristic or concerning behaviors, not just memory issues.”

According to Bednarczyk and the Alzheimer’s Association, if you notice any of these 10 signs — especially more than one — talk to your loved one about seeing their primary care doctor or geriatrician as soon as possible:

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Improving Air Quality Reduces Dementia Risk – Studies

Improving air quality may improve cognitive function and reduce dementia risk, according to several studies reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® (AAIC®) 2021 in Denver and virtually.

Previous reports have linked long-term air pollution exposure with accumulation of Alzheimer’s disease-related brain plaques, but this is the first accumulated evidence that reducing pollution, especially fine particulates in the air and pollutants from the burning of fuel, is associated with lower risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Both increasing levels of air pollution and increasing cases of dementia are worldwide public health crises. While research has linked air quality and cognition previously, these new data at AAIC 2021 explore how air pollutants might impact dementia and what reducing them might mean for long-term brain health.

Among the key findings are:

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Trouble falling asleep predicts cognitive impairment in later life

A study of nearly 2,500 adults found that having trouble falling asleep, as compared to other patterns of insomnia, was the main insomnia symptom that predicted cognitive impairment 14 years later.

Results show that having trouble falling asleep in 2002 was associated with cognitive impairment in 2016. Specifically, more frequent trouble falling asleep predicted poorer episodic memory, executive function, language, processing speed, and visuospatial performance. Further analysis found that associations between sleep initiation and later cognition were partially explained by both depressive symptoms and vascular diseases in 2014 for all domains except episodic memory, which was only partially explained by depressive symptoms.

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“While there is growing evidence for a link between insomnia and cognitive impairment in older adults, it has been difficult to interpret the nature of these associations given how differently both insomnia and cognitive impairment can present across individuals,” said lead author Afsara Zaheed, a graduate student in clinical science within the department of psychology at the University of Michigan. “By investigating associations between specific insomnia complaints and cognition over time using strong measures of cognitive ability, we hoped to gain additional clarity on whether and how these different sleep problems may lead to poor cognitive outcomes.”

Insomnia involves difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or regularly waking up earlier than desired, despite allowing enough time in bed for sleep. Daytime symptoms include fatigue or sleepiness; feeling dissatisfied with sleep; having trouble concentrating; feeling depressed, anxious, or irritable; and having low motivation or energy.

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CBD reduces plaque, improves cognition in model of familial Alzheimer’s

Because of the dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease that have affected my family on both sides, I remain acutely aware of developments in addressing cognition in the aging population. So, this study reported in Science Daily resonated with me.

A two-week course of high doses of CBD helps restore the function of two proteins key to reducing the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, and improves cognition in an experimental model of early onset familial Alzheimer’s, investigators report.

The proteins TREM2 and IL-33 are important to the ability of the brain’s immune cells to literally consume dead cells and other debris like the beta-amyloid plaque that piles up in patients’ brains, and levels of both are decreased in Alzheimer’s.

The investigators report for the first time that CBD normalizes levels and function, improving cognition as it also reduces levels of the immune protein IL-6, which is associated with the high inflammation levels found in Alzheimer’s, says Dr. Babak Baban, immunologist and associate dean for research in the Dental College of Georgia and the study’s corresponding author.

There is a dire need for novel therapies to improve outcomes for patients with this condition, which is considered one of the fastest-growing health threats in the United States, DCG and Medical College of Georgia investigators write in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Brain’s ‘wiring insulation’ as major factor of age-related brain deterioration – Study

A new study led by the University of Portsmouth has identified that one of the major factors of age-related brain deterioration is the loss of a substance called myelin.

Myelin acts like the protective and insulating plastic casing around the electrical wires of the brain – called axons. Myelin is essential for superfast communication between nerve cells that lie behind the supercomputer power of the human brain.

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The loss of myelin results in cognitive decline and is central to several neurodegenerative diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. This new study found that the cells that drive myelin repair become less efficient as we age and identified a key gene that is most affected by ageing, which reduces the cells ability to replace lost myelin.

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Employment may slow memory decline for women – NIA

Working in the paid labor workforce may have cognitive benefits later in life for U.S. women. For a study supported in part by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), researchers looked at the influence of social, employment, and gender-related factors on memory decline with implications for dementia risk. Their findings, recently published in Neurology, show that women in the workforce during early adulthood and midlife experienced slower rates of memory decline than those who had not worked for pay.

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A team of University of California (UC), Los Angeles; UC San Francisco; Harvard; and Boston College researchers analyzed the employment patterns, family structure, and demographic characteristics of U.S. women. More than 6,000 women at least age 55 in the Health and Retirement Study reported their past work-family statuses of employment, marriage, and parenthood between ages 16 and 50. They also participated in word recall memory assessments every two years over an average of 12 years. The study team then evaluated rates of later-life memory decline, which is a measure associated with dementia.

The average rate of memory decline after age 60 was slower for women who had worked, regardless of marriage and parenthood status. Taking time off from work when their children were young did not seem to decrease the cognitive benefit in married working mothers. Among nonworking mothers, rates of memory decline were similar for single and married women. Demographic characteristics, such as race, childhood socioeconomic status, and level of education, did not explain the relationship between work-family status and memory decline.

This study adds to evidence that participation in the workforce may be a protective factor for cognitive health later in life. The researchers did not look at volunteer work, the types of paid labor among women, or possible differences among genders. Future research on effects of participating in the workforce, such as cognitive stimulation and social engagement, may help explain how employment can decrease the rate of memory loss.

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Blink! The Link between Aerobic Fitness and Cognition

Although exercise is known to enhance cognitive function and improve mental health, the neurological mechanisms of this link are unknown. Now, researchers from Japan have found evidence of the missing link between aerobic fitness and cognitive function.


In a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers from the University of Tsukuba revealed that spontaneous eye blink rate (sEBR), which reflects activity of the dopamine system, could be used to understand the connection between cognitive function and aerobic fitness.

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The dopaminergic system is known to be involved in physical activity and exercise, and previous researchers have proposed that exercise-induced changes in cognitive function might be mediated by activity in the dopaminergic system. However, a marker of activity in this system was needed to test this hypothesis, something the researchers at the University of Tsukuba aimed to address.

“The dopaminergic system is associated with both executive function and motivated behavior, including physical activity,” says first author of the study Ryuta Kuwamizu. “We used sEBR as a non-invasive measure of dopaminergic system function to test whether it could be the missing link between aerobic fitness and cognitive function.”

To do this, the researchers asked healthy participants to undergo a measure of sEBR, a test of cognitive function, and an aerobic fitness test. They also measured brain activity during the cognitive task using functional near-infrared spectroscopy.

“As expected, we found significant correlations between aerobic fitness, cognitive function, and sEBR,” explains Professor Hideaki Soya, senior author. “When we examined these relationships further, we found that the connection between higher aerobic fitness and enhanced cognitive function was mediated in part by dopaminergic regulation.”

Furthermore, activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (l-DLPFC) during the cognitive task was the same or lower in participants with higher sEBR compared with lower sEBR, even though those with higher sEBR appeared to have greater executive function, and thus higher neural efficiency.

“Although previous studies have indicated that aerobic fitness and cognitive function are correlated, this is the first to provide a neuromodulatory basis for this connection in humans. Our data indicate that dopamine has an essential role in linking aerobic fitness and cognition,” says first author Kuwamizu.

Given that neural efficiency in the l-DLPFC is a known characteristic of the dopaminergic system that has been observed in individuals with higher fitness and executive function, it is possible that neural efficiency in this region partially mediates the association between aerobic fitness and executive function. Furthermore, physical inactivity may be related to dopaminergic dysfunction. This information provides new directions for research regarding how fitness affects the brain, which may lead to improved exercise regimens. For instance, exercise that specifically focuses on improving dopaminergic function may particularly boost motivation, mood, and mental function.

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Obesity may exacerbate effects of Alzheimer’s Disease – Study

Eat less; move more; live longer and keep cognition – words to live by.

New research from the University of Sheffield has found being overweight is an additional burden on brain health and it may exacerbate Alzheimer’s Disease.

The pioneering multi-modal neuro-imaging study revealed obesity may contribute toward neural tissue vulnerability, whilst maintaining a healthy weight in mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia could help to preserve brain structure.

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The findings, published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports, also highlight the impact being overweight in mid-life could have on brain health in older age.

Lead author of the study, Professor Annalena Venneri from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute and NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, said: “More than 50 million people are thought to be living with Alzheimer’s disease and despite decades of ground breaking studies and a huge global research effort we still don’t have a cure for this cruel disease.

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Unhealthy foods may diminish positive effects of an otherwise healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, has a positive impact on health, but little is known about the effects of including unhealthy foods in an otherwise healthy diet. Now researchers at Rush University Medical Center have reported diminished benefits of a Mediterranean diet among those with high frequency of eating unhealthy foods. The results of their study were published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association on January 7.

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“Eating a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains may positively affects a person’s health,” said Puja Agarwal, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College. “But when it is combined with fried food, sweets, refined grains, red meat and processed meat, we observed that the benefits of eating the Mediterranean part of the diet seems to be diminished.”

A Mediterranean diet is associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older adults.

The observational study included 5,001 older adults living in Chicago who were part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project, an evaluation of cognitive health in adults over the age of 65 conducted from 1993 to 2012. Every three years, the study participants completed a cognitive assessment questionnaire that tested basic information processing skills and memory, and they filled out a questionnaire about the frequency with which they consumed 144 food items.

The researchers analyzed how closely each of the study participants adhered to a Mediterranean diet, which includes daily consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, fish, potatoes and unrefined cereals, plus moderate wine consumption. They also assessed how much each participant followed a Western diet, which included fried foods, refined grains, sweets, red and processed meats, full-fat dairy products and pizza. They assigned scores of zero to five for each food item to compile a total Mediterranean diet score for each participant along a range from zero to 55.

The researchers then examined the association between Mediterranean diet scores and changes in participants’ global cognitive function, episodic memory and perceptual speed. Participants with slower cognitive decline over the years of follow-up were those who adhered closest to the Mediterranean diet, along with limiting foods that are part of Western diet, whereas participants who ate more of the Western diet had no beneficial effect of healthy food components in slowing cognitive decline.

There was no significant interaction between age, sex, race or education and the association with cognitive decline in either high or low levels of Western diet foods. The study also included models for smoking status, body mass index and other potential variables such as cardiovascular conditions and findings remained the same.

“Western diets may adversely affect cognitive health,” Agarwal said. “Individuals who had a high Mediterranean diet score compared to those who had the lowest score were equivalent to being 5.8 years younger in age cognitively.”

Agarwal said that the results complement other studies showing that a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes and also support previous studies on Mediterranean diet and cognition. The study also notes that most of the dietary patterns that have shown improvement in cognitive function among older adults, including the Mediterranean, MIND, and DASH diets, have a unique scoring matrix based on the amount of servings consumed for each diet component.

“The more we can incorporate green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, olive oil, and fish into our diets, the better it is for our aging brains and bodies. Other studies show that red and processed meat, fried food and low whole grains intake are associated with higher inflammation and faster cognitive decline in older ages,” Agarwal said. “To benefit from diets such as the Mediterranean diet, or MIND diet, we would have to limit our consumption of processed foods and other unhealthy foods such as fried foods and sweets.”

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Hearing and Vision Loss May Speed Development of Cognitive Problems

Cognitive decline ranges in severity from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). It is marked by memory loss and difficulty thinking and making decisions. Cognitive decline is a significant, common challenge to older adults’ well-being and their ability to live independently.

Today, cognitive impairment and ADRD are major global public health and social concerns as the population of older adults rises around the world. By 2050, more than 152 million people will be affected by these conditions. That’s why many countries, including the United States, see the prevention of ADRD as a key public health priority and are studying programs to help stem these diseases.

One way to prevent cognitive impairment and ADRD is to treat the problems that raise the risk for developing them. Two of these risk factors are hearing and vision loss. Currently, about 60 percent of people aged 70 years or older are affected by hearing loss, 40 percent are affected by vision loss, and 23 percent of older adults have both vision and hearing loss. Some studies have suggested that having both hearing and vision loss may be linked to poorer cognitive function or to a faster rate of cognitive decline.

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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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Neighborhood Noise May Increase Dementia Risk

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect millions of older adults in the US—but not equally. Past research has identified risk factors including genes, education, racism, and air pollution, and a growing number of studies now point to noise as another influence on risk of dementia.

Now, a new study co-led by a School of Public Health researcher finds that 10 decibels more daytime neighborhood noise is associated with 36 percent higher odds of mild cognitive impairment and 30 percent higher odds of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, the study is the first of its kind in the US.

“We remain in early stages in researching noise and dementia, but the signals so far, including those from our study, suggest we should pay more attention to the possibility that noise affects cognitive risk as we age,” says study first author Jennifer Weuve, associate professor of epidemiology.

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App predicts risk of developing Alzheimer’s

A new study from Lund University in Sweden shows that validated biomarkers can reveal an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Using a model that combines the levels of two specific proteins in the blood of those with mild memory impairment, the researchers are able to predict the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The researchers have also developed an app that doctors can use to give patients a risk assessment.

Oskar Hansson and his colleagues have been researching different biomarkers for a long time to produce better diagnostics at an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Over the past year, they have also developed accurate markers in blood tests for Alzheimer’s. The aim has been to identify the disease at an early stage of its progression, before the actual dementia stage, in order to begin treatment to ease symptoms, avoid unnecessary examinations and create a sense of security among patients.

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Common Medications and Vitamin B12 Levels

Vitamin B12 plays many crucial roles in the body. It is involved in neurologic function, red blood cell production, DNA synthesis, and a number of important chemical reactions. Vitamin B12 deficiency, while not common, can cause megaloblastic anemia (a disorder of the red blood cells that can cause symptoms such as fatigue, pale skin, and lightheadedness) and neurological and cognitive disorders.

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Consumption of animal products (like fish, meat, chicken, and dairy) and fortified foods (like breakfast cereals) generally provides plenty of B12 to meet our needs. Because plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains do not contain this vitamin, strict vegans should be conscious of their B12 intake. People who have had bariatric surgery or who have had part of their intestines removed, as well as those with absorptive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, are also at increased risk for B12 deficiency. Additionally, the ability to digest and absorb B12 may decline with age. Now, long-term use of several common medications has been added to the list of reasons to monitor B12 status.

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Healthy Lifestyle Habits May Lower the Risk for Developing Dementia

Can your eating habits and physical and mental activity lower your risk for developing dementia as you age? Obviously, it is important to learn all we can about how health habits affect the risks for developing dementia, a debilitating decline in memory and other mental abilities. Experts expect the number of people with dementia worldwide to rise to 82 million by 2030 and to over 152 million by 2050.

A team of researchers designed a study to learn more about whether adopting healthier lifestyle habits can help prevent or slow the onset of dementia. It was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers suggest that prevention strategies should focus on lowering dementia risk for people who are starting to experience cognitive decline, specifically subjective cognitive decline (SCD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

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