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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Research Explores Cure for Alzheimer's

Excerpts from August 2013 Senior Spirit Newsletter

Although Alzheimer’s disease is the focus of much research, the bottom line is that there is still no cure. Nor are scientists sure what causes this form of dementia, though several workable theories exist.

Most recently, a study by the French government agency INSERM found that people who delay retirement have less risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. The study of half a million people in France, the largest study of this kind to date, backs the general theory of aging that says” if you don’t use it, you lose it,” referring both to physical and cognitive function. In this case, working longer seems to keep people more mentally challenged as well as socially active.

Along those same lines of cognitive function, it was reported at the Alzheimer’s Association conference in Boston in July that people with certain types of cognitive concerns were more likely to have Alzheimer’s pathology in their brains and develop dementia than those who had no such complaints, leaving the conclusion that health care workers should listen to patients’ own sense of their health. For example, people with more concerns about memory and organizing ability were more likely to have amyloid, a key Alzheimer’s-related protein, in their brains. For this reason, leading Alzheimer’s researchers are identifying a new category called “subjective cognitive decline,” which is people’s own sense that their memory and thinking skills are slipping even before others have noticed (“Dementia’s Signs May Come Early,” July 17, 2013, New York Times).

A Growing Problem
Alzheimer’s is a serious problem, not just for the individual, but for society as a whole. More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer's disease, and 15.4 million friends and family members provide care, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Compounding the human toll, Alzheimer's is now the most expensive disease in the U.S., topping cancer and heart disease, according to a new study by the nonprofit RAND Corp. (“Costs of Alzheimer's disease could bankrupt Medicare,” Researchers are still trying to fully understand the illness's process and how to prevent or stop the disease, which robs people of their memory and the ability to function. Although scientists can’t be sure about which factors determine Alzheimer’s disease, the Alzheimer’s Association lists these hallmarks:
  • Plaques, microscopic clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid peptide.
  • Tangles, twisted microscopic strands of the protein tau (rhymes with "wow").
  • Loss of connections among brain cells responsible for memory, learning and communication. These connections, or synapses, transmit information from cell to cell.
  • Inflammation resulting from the brain's effort to fend off the lethal effects of the other changes underway.
  • Eventual death of brain cells and severe tissue shrinkage.

To read more on this article, visit Senior Spirit Medical News - August 2013. 

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors