Anxiety’s Influence on Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

New study reveals anxiety’s influence on the chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

New study reveals anxiety’s influence on the chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

People who suffer from moderate to severe anxiety have double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a new study finds.

Canadian researchers examined 376 people between the ages of 55 and 91 with ‘mild cognitive impairment’, and their chances of going on to develop Alzheimer’s disease (Mah et al., 2014).

Participants were followed over three years and their progress was monitored every six months.

The results showed that for people with mild anxiety symptoms, the chances of developing Alzheimer’s increased by 33%, for those with moderate anxiety it was 78% and for those with severe anxiety, the risk increased by 135%.

While depression has already been identified as a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, this is the first study to implicate anxiety separately.

People with mild cognitive impairment — which can turn into dementia — are regularly screened for depression, but not for anxiety.

Dr. Linda Mah, who led the study, said:

“Our findings suggest that clinicians should routinely screen for anxiety in people who have memory problems because anxiety signals that these people are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s.”

Greater levels of anxiety were also linked to shrinkage in areas of the brain that are crucial for the formation of memories (the medial temporal lobe regions).

Dr Mah speculated that treating the anxiety might also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s:

“While there is no published evidence to demonstrate whether drug treatments used in psychiatry for treating anxiety would be helpful in managing anxiety symptoms in people with mild cognitive impairment or in reducing their risk of conversion to Alzheimer’s, we think that at the very least behavioural stress management programs could be recommended.

In particular, there has been research on the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction in treating anxiety and other psychiatric symptoms in Alzheimer’s –and this is showing promise.”

Image credit: amenclinisphotos ac

The Diet Which Postpones Brain Aging

Study finds diet that gives brain fuel to repair age-related damage.

Study finds diet that gives brain fuel to repair age-related damage.

A high-fat diet can postpone brain aging in mice, a new study has found, but the results may also help fight Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Researchers have discovered that a high-fat diet — from fatty acids contained in coconut oil, or similar — gives brain cells extra fuel to burn, which helps its repair mechanism work more efficiently.

The Danish-led research targeted Cockayne syndrome, a rare genetic condition which causes a defect in the cell repair mechanisms (Scheibye-Knudsen et al., 2014).

Children with the syndrome age prematurely and often die at just 10 to 12-years-old.

Professor Vilhelm Bohr, who led the study, said:

“The study is good news for children with Cockayne syndrome, because we do not currently have an effective treatment.

Our study suggests that a high-fat diet can postpone aging processes.

A diet high in fat also seems to postpone the aging of the brain.

The findings therefore potentially imply that patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in the long term may benefit from the new knowledge.”

The findings may be beneficial to everyone since, with age, we all develop brain defects which lead to a reduction in mental capacity, as well as the increasing risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

In this study, mice with the defect in the DNA repair system were fed on a high-fat diet containing medium-chain fatty acids.

This diet postponed typical age-related problems like hearing loss and difficulties maintaining a healthy weight.

Dr. Morten Scheibye-Knudsen, the study’s first author, said:

“In cells from children with Cockayne syndrome, we have previously demonstrated that aging is a result of the cell repair mechanism being constantly active.

It eats into the resources and causes the cell to age very quickly.

We therefore hope that a diet with a high content of coconut oil or similar fats will have a beneficial effect, because the brain cells are given extra fuel and thus the strength to repair the damage.”

Image credit: Liz Jones

Major Cause of Dementia Identified Which Could Lead to New Treatments

Previously ‘untreatable’ dementias could be managed with lifestyle changes.

Previously ‘untreatable’ dementias could be managed with lifestyle changes.

Some types of dementia are actually a result of many tiny, unnoticed strokes damaging the brain over time, researchers at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre in Toronto, Canada, have found.

This suggests that this type of dementia could be treatable — probably through lifestyle changes.

The findings come from a study of five individuals who had their brains scanned over 16 consecutive weeks (Conklin et al., 2014).

The relatively frequent brain scans revealed that tiny spots were appearing on the MRI, which are characteristic of small strokes.

The appearance of the spots had not been noticed before because previous studies have scanned the brain at longer intervals — typically every year.

The spots did not produce any symptoms but, over time, it is thought the lesions can form into areas of white matter disease that are characteristic of dementia.

Around 50% of older individuals have this kind of white matter disease in their brains, although for many it is harmless.

For some patients, however, the disease can progress until the symptoms become severe.

Dr. Daniel Mandell, who led the study, said:

“We were surprised.

The findings suggest that the tiny, silent strokes are likely much more common than physicians previously appreciated, and these strokes are likely a cause of the age-related white matter disease that can lead to dementia.”

While there are no treatments for degenerative dementias, as this is vascular it may be possible to stop, or at least slow down, the process.

Dr. Frank Silver, Director of the Krembil Neuroscience Centre and one of the study’s authors, said:

“We don’t yet know whether these small strokes are responsible only some or most of the white matter disease seen in older patients.

But in those where it is the cause, the detection of white matter disease on brain imaging should trigger physicians to treat patients aggressively when managing stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking and lack of exercise not only to prevent further strokes, but also to reduce the development of cognitive impairment over time.”

Light To Moderate Alcohol Intake Linked To Better Memory In Later Years

How light to moderate alcohol intake affects memory for past events.

How light to moderate alcohol intake affects memory for past events.

For people over 60, light or moderate alcohol intake is associated with better recall of past events, according to a new study.

Links were also found between increased size of the hippocampus — the area of the brain crucial to memory — and moderate alcohol consumption.

The study, published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, used data from almost 700 people who have been followed since the 1970s (Downer et al., 2014).

They completed questionnaires about their alcohol intake, along with a battery of neuropsychological test which assessed their memory for past events, along with other cognitive factors.

The results showed that people who drank alcohol lightly or moderately had better memories for past events, although there was no association with overall mental ability.

Dr. Brian Downer, who led the study, cautioned of alternative explanations for the results:

“There were no significant differences in cognitive functioning and regional brain volumes during late life according to reported midlife alcohol consumption status.

This may be due to the fact that adults who are able to continue consuming alcohol into old age are healthier, and therefore have higher cognition and larger regional brain volumes, than people who had to decrease their alcohol consumption due to unfavorable health outcomes.”

That said, this is not the only study to identify this link.

Animal studies have supported the idea that alcohol may have a protective effect.

These have found that moderate alcohol consumption can preserve the hippocampal area of the brain by encouraging the regeneration of nerve tissue.

Alcohol may also increase the release of chemicals in the brain which boost its information processing functions.

Naturally, it’s proven that extended periods of alcohol abuse — defined as five or more drinks a day — can damage the brain.

But, light to moderate alcohol intake has been consistently linked with lower risk of dementia and cognitive decline in later years.

Image credit: Dave Dugdale

The Familiar Food Which May Help Fight Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s study finds that one ounce (30g) of this per day was enough to decrease anxiety and boost memory and learning.

Alzheimer’s study finds that one ounce (30g) of this per day was enough to decrease anxiety and boost memory and learning.

A new study finds that a diet which includes walnuts may delay the onset, progression and even the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The animal study, which is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that a walnut-rich diet increased memory, learning skills and even reduced anxiety in mice (Chauhan et al., 2014).

The research was inspired by previous findings about the protective effects of walnuts on cognition.

In the study, mice that had been genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer’s were fed diets supplemented with either 6% or 9% walnuts.

In humans this is equivalent to eating around 1 ounce (6%) or 1.5 ounces (9%) per day (30g and 45g resepectively).

After a year, the mice that were fed walnuts — along with a comparison group that had a walnut-free diet — were given a series of mouse-style cognitive tests.

They had to solve mazes, do tests which involved learning and gaining motor skills.

Both groups of mice fed walnuts showed improvements in learning ability, memory, anxiety and motor development compared to the control group.

The effects of the walnuts may be down to the high antioxidant content of walnuts, which is greater than other types of nuts.

walnuts

Dr. Abha Chauhan, who led the study, said:

“These findings are very promising and help lay the groundwork for future human studies on walnuts and Alzheimer’s disease — a disease for which there is no known cure.

Our study adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates the protective effects of walnuts on cognitive functioning.”

Currently, one person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 67 seconds in the United States.

By 2050 the number of people over 65 with the disease may have tripled, up to 16 million.

The total cost of the disease to the healthcare system is thought to be $214 billion.

Image credits: Rishi Bandopadhay & JimmyMac

What Alzheimer’s Patients Feel After Their Memories Have Vanished

Is the emotional life of Alzheimer’s patients alive and well?

Is the emotional life of Alzheimer’s patients alive and well?

While patients with Alzheimer’s might not remember when their loved ones visit, it has a profound effect on how they feel, a new study finds.

The study showed both happy and sad video clips lasting around 20 minutes to people with Alzheimer’s disease and observed their emotional states (Guzmán-Vélez et al., 2014).

They did the same for a group of healthy adults.

Five minutes afterwards, all the participants were given a memory test to see if they could remember the video they had just seen.

As you’d expect, Alzheimer’s patients remembered significantly less about the clips they’d just seen than the healthy group.

In fact, four out of the 17 patients could not remember a single fact about the clips and one patient couldn’t remember having seen any movie clips, despite the fact it was only five minutes later.

Despite not being able to remember seeing the videos, they were happier (or sadder, depending on the clips they’d seen) for at least 30 minutes afterwards.

Amazingly, when patients remembered less of the sad video clips, their feeling of sadness lasted longer.

Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, the study’s lead author, said:

“This confirms that the emotional life of an Alzheimer’s patient is alive and well.”

It also underlines the importance of generating positive emotions when visiting patients with Alzheimer’s.

Guzmán-Vélez continued:

“Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter.

Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes, and serving patients their favorite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient’s quality of life and subjective well-being.”

Image credit: Bev Sykes

How To Detect Dementia Before Any Symptoms Appear

New early warning test for dementia developed.

New early warning test for dementia developed.

Scientists now think they can detect dementia before the symptoms appear by using a special type of MRI brain scan technique.

The new test — which uses arterial spin labelling — relies on measuring the blood flow in a certain portion of the brain.

The test is sorely needed because early diagnosis of dementia is very important to effective therapies.

The number of people worldwide affected by dementia is currently at over 35 million, and those numbers are expected to double over the next 15 years.

The study which supports the use of this new test included 148 elderly people, around half of whom went on to develop signs of dementia over almost two years (Xekardaki et al., 2014).

Amongst those who later deteriorated, there was reduced blood flow in certain key areas of the brain, as measured at the start of the research.

In particular, reduced flow (or perfusion) was seen in the posterior cingulate cortex, an area in the middle of the brain which is active when our minds are not concentrating on anything specific.

Dr. Sven Haller, one of the study’s authors, said:

“There is a known close link between neural activity and brain perfusion in the posterior cingulate cortex.

Less perfusion indicates decreased neural activity.”

The reason that some people do not notice any symptoms of dementia, despite reduced flow, is that other areas of the brain are able to take up the slack.

The brain has a remarkable ability to recruit its cognitive reserves to make up for deficits caused by age or injury, but only up to a point.

Eventually the cognitive reserves are exhausted and the patient begins to notice some of the classic signs of dementia, like memory loss.

The test of blood flow in this area of the brain may prove a cheap and effective way of spotting these changes before the symptoms become obvious.

Currently PET scans are used to try and spot early signs of dementia, but these expose patients to radiation and are not as easy to administer.

Cooking Fish This Way Protects Brain From Gray Matter Loss With Age

Brain regions responsible for cognition were 14% larger in those who ate fish cooked with this method.

Brain regions responsible for cognition were 14% larger in those who ate fish cooked with this method.

Eating both baked and broiled fish once a week protects the brain from loosing gray matter with age, according to new research.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found no link between eating fried fish and better brain health (Raji et al., 2014).

Dr. Cyrus Raji, who led the study, explained:

“Baked or broiled fish contains higher levels of omega-3s than fried fish because the fatty acids are destroyed in the high heat of frying, so we took that into consideration…”

The data came from 260 people who had their brains scanned and who also provided information on what they had been eating.

They were all part of a 10-year study starting in 1989 which was originally designed to reveal the lifestyle factors important in cardiovascular health.

The study found that people who ate baked or broiled fish had, on average, 4.3% larger brain volumes in the areas responsible for memory and 14% larger volumes in areas responsible for cognition.

Professor James T. Becker, who co-authored the study, explained the results:

“Our study shows that people who ate a diet that included baked or broiled, but not fried, fish have larger brain volumes in regions associated with memory and cognition.

We did not find a relationship between omega-3 levels and these brain changes, which surprised us a little.

It led us to conclude that we were tapping into a more general set of lifestyle factors that were affecting brain health of which diet is just one part.”

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are also found in seeds, nuts and certain oils, have been repeatedly found to enhance brain health.

However, in this study there was no link between actual omega-3 levels in the body and changes in the brain.

Dr. Becker said:

“This suggests that lifestyle factors, in this case eating fish, rather than biological factors contribute to structural changes in the brain.

A confluence of lifestyle factors likely are responsible for better brain health, and this reserve might prevent or delay cognitive problems that can develop later in life.”

• Read on: 10 Ways to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Image credit: Donnie Nunley

Memory Loss From Alzheimer’s Reversed For First Time With New Approach

Nine out of ten patients with memory problems showed improvements with this novel multi-systems approach.

Nine out of ten patients with memory problems showed improvements with this novel multi-systems approach.

Memory loss in patients with Alzheimer’s disease may be reversed — and the improvement sustained — using a novel treatment approach, a small exploratory study has found.

The study, which included 10 patients, used a combination of therapies which were personalised to help them reverse memory loss (Bredesen, 2014).

Some patients were getting disoriented while driving, others mixing up names and some had been forced to quit their jobs.

Within three to six months of the treatment all but one of the patients was seeing either objective or subjective improvements in their memory.

Those who had been forced to quit work were able to return.

One of the patients was a 55-year-old attorney who had been suffering memory loss for four years, but showed a remarkable improvement from the program:

“After five months on the therapeutic program, she noted that she no longer needed her iPad for notes, and no longer needed to record conversations.

She was able to work once again, was able to learn Spanish, and began to learn a new legal specialty.

Her children noted that she no longer became lost in mid-sentence, no longer thought she had asked them to do something that she had not asked, and answered their questions with normal rapidity and memory.”


Professor Dale Bredesen, who authored the study, explained that the key is taking a multi-systems approach:

“The existing Alzheimer’s drugs affect a single target, but Alzheimer’s disease is more complex.

Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it, and your drug patched one hole very well — the drug may have worked, a single “hole” may have been fixed, but you still have 35 other leaks, and so the underlying process may not be affected much.”

Each patient was given a specialised program, which often included things like exercise, optimising sleep, practising yoga, brain stimulation and taking supplements such as vitamin D3 and melatonin.

In total Professor Bredesen’s therapeutic plan has 36-points, the exact combination of which was tailored for each patient.

As he is the first to say, though, the study is only a small one:

“This is the first successful demonstration.

The current, anecdotal results require a larger trial, not only to confirm or refute the results reported here, but also to address key questions raised, such as the degree of improvement that can be achieved routinely, how late in the course of cognitive decline reversal can be effected, whether such an approach may be effective in patients with familial Alzheimer’s disease, and last, how long improvement can be sustained.”

Still, even though the study is small, the results are striking — and hopeful.

10 Ways to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

The big 5 lifestyle factors and more ways of preventing dementia.

By 2050 there could be as many as 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Some of the most frequent early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are short-term memory loss, getting lost and problems finding words.

The big 5 lifestyle factors and more ways of preventing dementia.

By 2050 there could be as many as 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Some of the most frequent early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are short-term memory loss, getting lost and problems finding words.

Later on it can lead to mood swings, confusion, long-term memory loss and a withdrawal from friends and family.

Whilst there is no cure, there are a number of lifestyle and dietary factors that have been associated with preventing dementia.

(Click the links for details of each study.)

1. Keep the brain active

Traditional pastimes like cards and doing puzzles may help to increase brain volume, according to new research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2014.

In the study, along with a brain scan, 329 middle-aged people were surveyed to see how cognitively active they were: how much they played games, read books, went to museums and so on.

The results showed that people who played the most games — like crosswords, checkers, cards and puzzles — also had the largest brain volume.

Stephanie Schultz, the study’s lead author said:

“Our findings suggest that, for some individuals, engagement in cognitively stimulating activities, especially those involving games such as puzzles and cards, might be a useful approach for preserving brain structures and cognitive functions that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.”

2. Avoid being cynical

People with high levels of cynicism are more likely to develop dementia, according to a new study published in the medical journal Neurology.

In the study, conducted in Finland, 1,449 people were given tests of their cynicism that included questions like:

  • “I think most people would lie to get ahead.”
  • “It is safer to trust nobody.”
  • “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.”

Eight years later, people who were high on cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than those low on that measure.

3. Take Vitamin E

Two recent studies provide evidence of the protective effects of Vitamin E against both mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and age-related memory problems.

Dr. Mary Sano, author of one of the trails, explained:

“This trial showed that vitamin E delays progression of functional decline by 19% per year, which translates into 6.2 months benefit over placebo.”

The study’s authors think that vitamin E can be recommended as standard clinical practice.

A second study carried out in Finland found that higher levels of vitamin E in the blood seemed to protect against memory disorders.

4, 5, 6, 7 & 8. The big five lifestyle factors

The big five lifestyle factors are the ones you’ve heard many times before, especially in relation to heart disease.

They apply to dementia just the same:

4. Take regular exercise.
5. Don’t smoke.
6. Maintain a low body weight.
7. Eat a healthy diet.
8. Low alcohol intake.

A 35-year study recently revealed that people who followed four or five out of these five healthy habits had 60% lower levels of dementia and cognitive decline with ageing.

Adopting just one of these healthy habits reduced the rate of dementia by one-quarter.

Exercise provided the largest protective effect against cognitive decline and dementia.

Dr Doug Brown, of the Alzheimer’s Society, commenting on the study, said:

“We have known for some time that what is good for your heart is also good for your head, and this study provides more evidence to show that healthy living could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia.”

9. Take Vitamin D

Low levels of Vitamin D are substantially associated with developing Alzheimer’s and dementia in older people, according to the best study conducted so far.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, found that amongst those who had dementia, those low in Vitamin D were 53% more likely to develop the disease.

Amongst those who were severely deficient, the risk increased by 125%.

Similar increases in risk were seen for Alzheimer’s disease: low levels of vitamin D increased risk by 69% and severe deficiency by 122%.

10. Avoid sugar

Otherwise healthy people with high blood sugar levels are more likely to have memory problems, according to a recent study published in the journal Neurology.

This is not the first study to link higher levels of blood glucose with smaller brain structures, particularly the hippocampus.

Studies of those with type 2 diabetes and those with problems absorbing glucose have linked it with higher rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The authors suggest sugar may have a toxic effect on the brain, particularly in its memory centres:

“Direct “toxic” effects of glucose on neuronal structures include disturbances of intracellular second messenger pathways, imbalance in the generation and scavenging of reactive oxygen species, or advanced glycation of important functional and structural proteins in the brain.”

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