Tag Archives: cognition

Poor eyesight unfairly mistaken for brain decline

Millions of older people with poor vision are at risk of being misdiagnosed with mild cognitive impairments, according to a new study by the University of South Australia.

Cognitive tests that rely on vision-dependent tasks could be skewing results in up to a quarter of people aged over 50 who have undiagnosed visual problems such as cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

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Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss for older people. It doesn’t cause complete vision loss, but severely impacts people’s ability to read, drive, cook, and even recognise faces. It has no bearing on cognition.

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Combination of biomarkers can identify common cognitive disease

In recent years, subcortical small-vessel disease has become an increasingly common cognitive diagnosis. Researchers at University of Gothenburg have now shown that it is possible to identify patients with the disease by combining two biomarkers that are measured in spinal fluid and blood, increasing the potential for both treatment and development of medication.

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Subcortical small-vessel disease is one of the most common cognitive diseases, along with Alzheimer’s disease and mixed dementia, which is a form in which Alzheimer’s disease occurs together with vascular damage in the brain.

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Anti-Inflammatory Diet May Be Best Bet for Cognitive Health

As people age, inflammation within their immune system increases, damaging cells. A new study shows that people who consumed an anti-inflammatory diet that includes more fruits, vegetables, beans, and tea or coffee, had a lower risk of developing dementia later in life. The research is published in the November 10, 2021, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

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“There may be some potent nutritional tools in your home to help fight the inflammation that could contribute to brain aging,” said study author Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, PhD, of National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “Diet is a lifestyle factor you can modify, and it might play a role in combating inflammation, one of the biological pathways contributing to risk for dementia and cognitive impairment later in life.”

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The beginning of a new paradigm for understanding the brain – HBP

“The way we study the brain has changed fundamentally in recent years,” says first author Katrin Amunts, Human Brain Project (HBP) Scientific Director, Director of the C. and O. Vogt-Institute of Brain Research, Düsseldorf and Director at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine at Research Centre Jülich. “In the past, separate communities have often focused on specific aspects of neuroscience, and the problem was always how to link the different worlds, for example, in order to explain a certain cognitive function in terms of the underlying neurobiology.”

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The HBP has brought together communities from different disciplines and countries to work collaboratively on common goals. In the new eNeuro article „Linking brain structure, activity and cognitive function through computation”, the HBP researchers outline their scientific approach and illustrate the potential of the EBRAINS infrastructure for neuroscience research.

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Key Mental Abilities Can Actually Improve During Aging

It’s long been believed that advancing age leads to broad declines in our mental abilities. Now, new research from Georgetown University Medical Center offers surprisingly good news by countering this view.

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The findings, published August 19, 2021, in Nature Human Behavior, show that two key brain functions, which allow us to attend to new information and to focus on what’s important in a given situation, can in fact improve in older individuals. These functions underlie critical aspects of cognition such as memory, decision making, and self-control, and even navigation, math, language and reading.

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Extended Napping in Seniors May Signal Dementia

Daytime napping among older people is a normal part of aging – but it may also foreshadow Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. And once dementia or its usual precursor, mild cognitive impairment, are diagnosed, the frequency and/or duration of napping accelerates rapidly, according to a new study.

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The study, led by UC San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School together with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, its teaching affiliate, departs from the theory that daytime napping in older people serves merely to compensate for poor nighttime sleep. Instead, it points to work by other UCSF researchers suggesting that dementia may affect the wake-promoting neurons in key areas of the brain, the researchers state in their paper publishing March 17 in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We found the association between excessive daytime napping and dementia remained after adjusting for nighttime quantity and quality of sleep,” said co-senior author Yue Leng, MD, PhD, of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

“This suggested that the role of daytime napping is important itself and is independent of nighttime sleep,” said Leng, who partnered with Kun Hu, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, in senior-authoring the paper.

Watch-Like Devices, Annual Evaluations Used to Measure Naps, Cognition

In the study, the researchers tracked data from 1,401 seniors, who had been followed for up to 14 years by the Rush Memory and Aging Project at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago. The participants, whose average age was 81 and of whom approximately three-quarters were female, wore a watch-like device that tracked mobility. Each prolonged period of non-activity from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. was interpreted as a nap.

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Mental Speed Hardly Changes over a Lifespan

Mental speed – the speed at which we can deal with issues requiring rapid decision-making – does not change substantially over decades. Psychologists at Heidelberg University have come to this conclusion. Under the leadership of Dr Mischa von Krause and Dr Stefan Radev, they evaluated data from a large-scale online experiment with over a million participants. The findings of the new study suggest that the speed of cognitive information processing remains largely stable between the ages of 20 and 60, and only deteriorates at higher ages. The Heidelberg researchers have hereby called into question the assumption to date that mental speed starts to decline already in early adulthood.

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“The common assumption is that the older we get, the more slowly we react to external stimuli. If that were so, mental speed would be fastest at the age of about twenty and would then decline with increasing age,” says Dr von Krause, a researcher in the Quantitative Research Methods department headed by Prof. Dr Andreas Voß at Heidelberg University’s Institute of Psychology. In order to verify this theory, the researchers re-evaluated data from a large-scale American study on implicit biases. In the online experiment with over a million participants, subjects had to press a button to sort pictures of people into the categories “white” or “black” and words into the categories “good” or “bad”. According to Dr von Krause, the content focus was of minor importance in the Heidelberg study. Instead, the researchers used the large batch of data as an example of a response-time task to measure the duration of cognitive decisions.

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High blood pressure in younger adults linked to midlife brain changes

Research Highlights:

  • Younger adults (ages 20-40) with high blood pressure had brain changes by midlife (average age 55) that may increase their risk of cognitive decline later in life or over time.
  • These changes were similar across all races and ethnic groups examined in the study when accounting for the degree of high blood pressure exposure.
  • The findings suggest health care professionals consider more aggressive high blood pressure treatment for younger adults to prevent brain changes in later life.
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High blood pressure among younger adults, ages 20-40 years, appears to be linked to brain changes in midlife (average age 55) that may increase risk for later cognitive decline, according to preliminary research to be presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2022, a world premier meeting for researchers and clinicians dedicated to the science of stroke and brain health to be held in person in New Orleans and virtually, Feb. 8-11, 2022.

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Self-administered cognition test predicts early signs of dementia sooner

Many people experience forgetfulness as they age, but it’s often difficult to tell if these memory issues are a normal part of aging or a sign of something more serious. A new study finds that a simple, self-administered test developed by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, College of Medicine and College of Public Health can identify the early, subtle signs of dementia sooner than the most commonly used office-based standard cognitive test.   

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This earlier detection by the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE test) is critical to effective treatment, especially as new therapeutics for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are being developed and approved.   “New disease modifying therapies are available and others are currently being evaluated in clinical trials, and we know that the earlier cognitive impairment is detected, the more treatment choices a patient has and the better the treatments work,” said Dr. Douglas Scharre, director of the Division of Cognitive and Memory Disorders in the Department of Neurology at Ohio State and lead author of the study published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.

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Coffee could lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease – Study

Good news for those of us who can’t face the day without their morning flat white: a long-term study has revealed drinking higher amounts of coffee may make you less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

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As part of the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study of ageing, researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU) investigated whether coffee intake affected the rate of cognitive decline of more than 200 Australians over a decade.

Lead investigator Dr. Samantha Gardener said results showed an association between coffee and several important markers related to Alzheimer’s disease.

“We found participants with no memory impairments and with higher coffee consumption at the start of the study had lower risk of transitioning to mild cognitive impairment — which often precedes Alzheimer’s disease — or developing Alzheimer’s disease over the course of the study,” she said.

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Elevated heart rate linked to increased risk of dementia

Having an elevated resting heart rate in old age may be an independent risk factor of dementia, according to a study at Karolinska Institutet published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Since resting heart rate is easy to measure and can be lowered through exercise or medical treatment, the researchers believe that it may help to identify people with higher dementia risk for early intervention.

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The number of people living with dementia is expected to increase to 139 million globally by 2050, from 55 million in 2020, according to the organisation Alzheimer’s Disease International. Currently, there is no cure for dementia, but growing evidence suggests that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and cardiovascular health could help delay the onset of dementia and ease symptoms.

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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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Gene linked to cognitive resilience in seniors

Many people develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as they get older. However, others remain sharp well into old age, even if their brains show underlying signs of neurodegeneration.

Among these cognitively resilient people, researchers have identified education level and amount of time spent on intellectually stimulating activities as factors that help prevent dementia. A new study by MIT researchers shows that this kind of enrichment appears to activate a gene family called MEF2, which controls a genetic program in the brain that promotes resistance to cognitive decline.

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The researchers observed this link between MEF2 and cognitive resilience in both humans and mice. The findings suggest that enhancing the activity of MEF2 or its targets might protect against age-related dementia.

“It’s increasingly understood that there are resilience factors that can protect the function of the brain,” says Li-Huei Tsai, director of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. “Understanding this resilience mechanism could be helpful when we think about therapeutic interventions or prevention of cognitive decline and neurodegeneration-associated dementia.”

Tsai is the senior author of the study, which appears today in Science Translational Medicine. The lead authors are recent MIT PhD recipient Scarlett Barker and MIT postdoctoral fellow and Boston Children’s Hospital physician Ravikiran (Ravi) Raju.

Protective effects

A large body of research suggests that environmental stimulation offers some protection against the effects of neurodegeneration. Studies have linked education level, type of job, number of languages spoken, and amount of time spent on activities such as reading and doing crossword puzzles to higher degrees of cognitive resilience.

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Scientists identify cause of Alzheimer’s progression in the brain

As a person with several cases of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia on both sides of his family, I have worked diligently to keep up with facts on possible prevention or, at least, slowing of cognitive impairment. I have written repeatedly about cognition and the value exercise in helping the brain to maintain its full function.

For the first time, researchers have used human data to quantify the speed of different processes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease and found that it develops in a very different way than previously thought. Their results could have important implications for the development of potential treatments.

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The international team, led by the University of Cambridge, found that instead of starting from a single point in the brain and initiating a chain reaction which leads to the death of brain cells, Alzheimer’s disease reaches different regions of the brain early. How quickly the disease kills cells in these regions, through the production of toxic protein clusters, limits how quickly the disease progresses overall.

The researchers used post-mortem brain samples from Alzheimer’s patients, as well as PET scans from living patients, who ranged from those with mild cognitive impairment to those with full-blown Alzheimer’s disease, to track the aggregation of tau, one of two key proteins implicated in the condition.

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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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