Tag Archives: cognitive decline

Musical tests can detect mental deterioration in seniors

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a method that employs musical tests and a portable instrument for measuring brain activity to detect cognitive decline in old age. According to the researchers, the method, which is based on the measurement of 15 minutes of electrical activity in the brain while performing simple musical tasks, can be easily implemented by any staff member in any clinic, without requiring special training.

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The researchers: “Our method enables routine monitoring and early detection of cognitive decline in order to provide treatment and prevent rapid, severe deterioration. Prophylactic tests of this kind are commonly accepted for a variety of physiological problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or breast cancer; however, to date no method has yet been developed to enable routine, accessible monitoring of the brain for cognitive issues.” The researchers further note that tests of this kind are particularly important in light of increasing longevity and associated growth of the elderly population.

The study was led at Tel Aviv University by PhD student Neta Maimon from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, and Lior Molcho from Neurosteer Ltd, headed by Prof. Nathan Intrator from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the Sagol School of Neuroscience. Other participants included: Adi Sasson, Sarit Rabinowitz, and Noa Regev-Plotnick from the Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center. The article was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

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Thyroid Problems Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia

Older people with hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, may be at increased risk of developing dementia, according to a study published in the July 6, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The risk of developing dementia was even higher for people whose thyroid condition required thyroid hormone replacement medication.

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Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. This can slow metabolism. Symptoms include feeling tired, weight gain and sensitivity to cold.

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Insomnia in midlife may manifest as cognitive problems in retirement age

Long-term insomnia symptoms can pose a risk of poorer cognitive functioning later in life. This is why insomnia should be treated as early as possible, according to a new study.

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The Helsinki Health Study at the University of Helsinki investigated the development of insomnia symptoms in midlife and their effects on memory, learning ability and concentration after retirement. The follow-up period was 15–17 years.

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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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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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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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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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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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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Memory problems are often one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s. Symptoms vary from person to person, and may include problems with:

  • Word-finding, or having more trouble coming up with words than other people the same age.
  • Vision and spatial issues, like awareness of the space around them.
  • Impaired reasoning or judgment, which can impact decisions.

Other symptoms may be changes in the person’s behavior, including:

  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks.
  • Repeating questions.
  • Trouble handling money and paying bills.
  • Wandering and getting lost.
  • Losing things or misplacing them in odd places.
  • Mood and personality changes.
  • Increased anxiety and/or aggression.

How Is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed and Treated?

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What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

As a senior citizen one of my most serious concerns is my mental functioning. My mother and her sister were afflicted with forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Also, my father’s father suffered cognitive problems in the 1940’s. Finally, my father’s sister and her daughter, my cousin had forms of dementia. It runs in my family and judging by the number of cases reported, there is a chance it runs in yours, too.

Here is what Alzheimers.gov has to say on the subject:

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. People with Alzheimer’s also experience changes in behavior and personality.

More than 6 million Americans, many of them age 65 and older, are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease. That’s more individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease than the population of a large American city. Many more people experience Alzheimer’s in their lives as family members and friends of those with the disease.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease — changes in thinking, remembering, reasoning, and behavior — are known as dementia. That’s why Alzheimer’s is sometimes referred to as “dementia.” Other diseases and conditions can also cause dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common cause of dementia in older adults.

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It’s the result of complex changes in the brain that start years before symptoms appear and lead to the loss of brain cells and their connections.

What Causes Alzheimer’s?

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not yet fully understood, but probably include a combination of:

  • Age-related changes in the brain, like shrinking, inflammation, blood vessel damage, and breakdown of energy within cells, which may harm neurons and affect other brain cells.
  • Changes or differences in genes, which may be passed down by a family member. Both types of Alzheimer’s — the very rare early-onset type occurring between age 30 and mid-60s, and the most common late-onset type occurring after a person’s mid-60s — can be related to a person’s genes in some way. Many people with Down syndrome, a genetic condition, will develop Alzheimer’s as they age and may begin to show symptoms in their 40s.
  • Health, environmental, and lifestyle factors that may play a role, such as exposure to pollutants, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

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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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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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Experimental drug shows potential against Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers have designed an experimental drug that reversed key symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice. The drug works by reinvigorating a cellular cleaning mechanism that gets rid of unwanted proteins by digesting and recycling them.

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have designed an experimental drug that reversed key symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice. The drug works by reinvigorating a cellular cleaning mechanism that gets rid of unwanted proteins by digesting and recycling them. The study was published online today in the journal Cell.

“Discoveries in mice don’t always translate to humans, especially in Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-study leader Ana Maria Cuervo, M.D., Ph.D., the Robert and Renée Belfer Chair for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases, professor of developmental and molecular biology, and co-director of the Institute for Aging Research at Einstein. “But we were encouraged to find in our study that the drop-off in cellular cleaning that contributes to Alzheimer’s in mice also occurs in people with the disease, suggesting that our drug may also work in humans.” In the 1990s, Dr. Cuervo discovered the existence of this cell-cleaning process, known as chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA) and has published 200 papers on its role in health and disease.

CMA becomes less efficient as people age, increasing the risk that unwanted proteins will accumulate into insoluble clumps that damage cells. In fact, Alzheimer’s and all other neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by the presence of toxic protein aggregates in patients’ brains. The Cell paper reveals a dynamic interplay between CMA and Alzheimer’s disease, with loss of CMA in neurons contributing to Alzheimer’s and vice versa. The findings suggest that drugs for revving up CMA may offer hope for treating neurodegenerative diseases.

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Poor fitness linked to weaker brain fiber, higher dementia risk

Scientists have more evidence that exercise improves brain health and could be a lifesaving ingredient that prevents Alzheimer’s disease.

In particular, a new study from the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute suggests that the lower the fitness level, the faster the deterioration of vital nerve fibers in the brain. This deterioration results in cognitive decline, including memory issues characteristic of dementia patients.

Brain imaging shows yellow and reddish pixels representing areas where the functionality of white matter is associated with higher fitness levels. The images are based on cumulative data from patients in a study showing potential links between physical fitness and deterioration of white matter.

“This research supports the hypothesis that improving people’s fitness may improve their brain health and slow down the aging process,” said Dr. Kan Ding, a neurologist from the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute who authored the study. 

White matter

The study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease focused on a type of brain tissue called white matter, which is comprised of millions of bundles of nerve fibers used by neurons to communicate across the brain.

Dr. Ding’s team enrolled older patients at high risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease who have early signs of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The researchers determined that lower fitness levels were associated with weaker white matter, which in turn correlated with lower brain function.

Distinctive tactics

Unlike previous studies that relied on study participants to assess their own fitness, the new research objectively measured cardiorespiratory fitness with a scientific formula called maximal oxygen uptake. Scientists also used brain imaging to measure the functionality of each patient’s white matter.

Patients were then given memory and other cognitive tests to measure brain function, allowing scientists to establish strong correlations between exercise, brain health, and cognition.

Lingering Mysteries

The study adds to a growing body of evidence pointing to a simple yet crucial mandate for human health: Exercise regularly.

However, the study leaves plenty of unanswered questions about how fitness and Alzheimer’s disease are intertwined. For instance, what fitness level is needed to notably reduce the risk of dementia? Is it too late to intervene when patients begin showing symptoms?

Some of these topics are already being researched through a five-year national clinical trial led by the O’Donnell Brain Institute.

The trial, which includes six medical centers across the country, aims to determine whether regular aerobic exercise and taking specific medications to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help preserve brain function. It involves more than 600 older adults at high risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

“Evidence suggests that what is bad for your heart is bad for your brain. We need studies like this to find out how the two are intertwined and hopefully find the right formula to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Rong Zhang of UT Southwestern, who oversees the clinical trial and is Director of the Cerebrovascular Laboratory in the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where the Dallas arm of the study is being carried out.

Prior Findings

The research builds upon prior investigations linking healthy lifestyles to better brain function, including a 2013 study from Dr. Zhang’s team that found neuronal messages are more efficiently relayed in the brains of older adults who exercise.

In addition, other teams at the O’Donnell Brain Institute are designing tests for the early detection of patients who will develop dementia, and seeking methods to slow or stop the spread of toxic proteins associated with the disease such as beta-amyloid and tau, which are blamed for destroying certain groups of neurons in the brain.

“A lot of work remains to better understand and treat dementia,” said Dr. Ding, Assistant Professor of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics. “But, eventually, the hope is that our studies will convince people to exercise more.

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