Dementia in the News

Rambling and long-winded anecdotes could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research that suggests subtle changes in speech style occur years before the more serious mental decline takes hold.

The scientists behind the work said it may be possible to detect these changes and predict if someone is at risk more than a decade before meeting the threshold for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Last summer, deep disappointment befell the Alzheimer disease (AD) community when study results showed that the widely heralded experimental drug LMTX had failed to help AD patients. In November, another promising drug, solanezumab, also dashed hopes. Because these drugs target either amyloid β (solanezumab) or tau (LMTX), proteins that aggregate into the plaques and tangles in brain tissue characteristic of AD, some have suggested that researchers are following the wrong path by attacking these proteins and that AD research is back to square one after decades of work.

The announcement came the day before Thanksgiving, but there was nothing in it to be thankful for: An experimental Alzheimer’s drug many thought would slow the disease’s steady cognitive decline had failed to make a significant difference in a massive trial of people with early signs of the illness.

Marty Reiswig took the news hard. “I was just sad,” he says. “I was really hopeful that it would be life-changing for us.”

A concussion today could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, but only if your genes already tip the odds toward dementia, according to a study published in the journal Brain on January 11, 2017.

To those outside the field of neuroscience, the process may have seemed a little ghoulish. Rudolph Tanzi and Robert Moir took autopsied brain tissue from patients who had died of Alzheimer’s disease and “homogenized” it, grinding up the tissue using a sterile, laboratory-grade mortar and pestle. “Not terribly elegant, but highly effective,” says Moir, assistant professor in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

A new study led by Jubin Abutalebi of the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan, provides a possible explanation for why speaking a second language slows the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The researchers reported in the January 30 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that bilingual people form stronger connections between some regions of their brains than do monolinguals. These beefed-up networks might allow people to adapt to age-related reductions in brain functions.

Delirium may seem relatively harmless when it’s an elderly patient who temporarily blanks on who or where they are after an acute trauma, but it is not. Delirium can accelerate ongoing dementia. It can also independently precipitate cognitive decline, according to one of the most comprehensive studies of delirium and dementia to date.

In a barbed wire - enclosed parking lot 100 meters downwind of the Route 110 freeway, an aluminum hose sticks out of a white trailer, its nozzle aimed at an overpass. Every minute, the hose sucks up hundreds of liters of air mixed with exhaust from the roughly 300,000 cars and diesel-burning freight trucks that rumble by each day.

A gradual decline in memory is a dreaded effect of normal aging. But Massachusetts General Hospital researchers have discovered that some people in their 60s, 70s or 80s have the youthful memories of 20-year-olds and their brains show why. Bradford Dickerson, MD, a behavioral neurologist in the Mass General Memory Disorders Unit, and his colleagues are trying to learn as much as possible about these so-called “superagers.” He hopes their studies will point to ways all of us could become superagers with youthful memory too.

Many older adults want to live at home independently as they age. Sometimes all they need is a little help from their family and friends - and the right technology. A new initiative led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aims to help seniors age in place by developing a research platform to study the use of health-related in-home sensors and other technologies.

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