1. Study suggests another gene that may significantly influence development of dementia and Alzheimer’s

    September 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Southern California press release:

    The notorious genetic marker of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, ApoE4, may not be a lone wolf.

    Researchers from USC and the University of Manchester have found that another gene, TOMM40, complicates the picture. Although ApoE4 plays a greater role in some types of aging-related memory ability, TOMM40 may pose an even greater risk for other types.

    TOMM40 and APOE genes are neighbors, adjacent to each other on chromosome 19, and they are sometimes used as proxies for one another in genetic studies. At times, scientific research has focused chiefly on one APOE variant, ApoE4, as the No. 1 suspect behind Alzheimer’s and dementia-related memory decline. The literature also considers the more common variant of APOE, ApoE3, neutral in risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

    USC researchers believe their new findings raise a significant research question: Has TOMM40 been misunderstood as a sidekick to ApoE4 when it is really a mastermind, particularly when ApoE3 is present?

    “Typically, ApoE4 has been considered the strongest known genetic risk factor for cognitive decline, memory decline, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia-related onset,” said T. Em Arpawong, the study’s lead author and a post-doctoral fellow in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology. “Although prior studies have found some variants of this other gene TOMM40 may heighten the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, our study found that a TOMM40 variant was actually more influential than ApoE4 on the decline in immediate memory – the ability to hold onto new information.”

    Studies have shown that the influence of genes associated with memory and cognitive decline intensifies with age. That is why the scientists chose to examine immediate and delayed verbal test results over time in conjunction with genetic markers.

    “An example of immediate recall is someone tells you a series of directions to get somewhere and you’re able to repeat them back,” explained Carol A. Prescott, the paper’s senior author who is a professor of psychology at USC Dornsife College and professor of gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. “Delayed recall is being able to remember those directions a few minutes later, as you’re on your way.”

    The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE on Aug. 11.

    Prescott and Arpawong are among the more than 70 researchers at USC who are dedicated to the prevention, treatment and potential cure of Alzheimer’s disease. The memory-erasing illness is one of the greatest health challenges of the century, affecting 1 in 3 seniors and costing $236 billion a year in health care services. USC researchers across a range of disciplines are examining the health, societal and political effects and implications of the disease.

    In the past decade, the National Institute on Aging has nearly doubled its investment in USC research. The investments include an Alzheimer Disease Research Center.

    Tracking memory loss

    For the study, the team of researchers from USC and The University of Manchester utilized data from two surveys: the U.S. Health and Retirement Study and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Both data sets are nationally representative samples and include results of verbal memory testing and genetic testing.

    The research team used verbal test results from the U.S. Health and Retirement Survey, collected from 1996 to 2012, which interviewed participants via phone every two years. The researchers utilized the verbal memory test scores of 20,650 participants, aged 50 and older who were tested repeatedly to study how their memory changed over time.

    To test immediate recall, an interviewer read a list of 10 nouns and then asked the participant to repeat the words back immediately. For delayed recall, the interviewer waited five minutes and then asked the participant to recall the list. Test scores ranged from 0 to 10.

    The average score for immediate recall was 5.7 words out of 10, and the delayed recall scoring average was 4.5 words out of 10. A large gap between the two sets of scores can signal the development of Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

    “There is usually a drop-off in scores between the immediate and the delayed recall tests,” Prescott said. “In evaluating memory decline, it is important to look at both types of memory and the difference between them. You would be more worried about a person who has scores of 10 and 5 than a person with scores of 6 and 4.”

    The first person is worrisome because five minutes after reciting the 10 words perfectly, he or she can recall only half of them, Prescott said. The other person wasn’t perfect on the immediate recall test, but five minutes later, was able to remember a greater proportion of words.

    To prevent bias in the study’s results, the researchers excluded participants who reported that they had received a likely diagnosis of dementia or a dementia-like condition, such as Alzheimer’s. They also focused on participants identified as primarily European in heritage to minimize population bias. Results were adjusted for age and sex.

    The researchers compared the U.S. data to the results of an independent replication sample of participants, age 50 and up, in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging from 2002 to 2012. Interviews and tests were conducted every two years.

    Genetic markers of dementia

    To investigate whether genes associated with immediate and delayed recall abilities, researchers utilized genetic data from 7,486 participants in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study and 6,898 participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

    The researchers examined the association between the immediate and delayed recall results with 1.2 million gene variations across the human genome. Only one, TOMM40, had a strong link to declines in immediate recall and level of delayed recall. ApoE4 also was linked but not as strongly.

    “Our findings indicate that TOMM40 plays a larger role, specifically, in the decline of verbal learning after age 60,” the scientists wrote. “Further, our analyses showed that there are unique effects of TOMM40 beyond ApoE4 effects on both the level of delayed recall prior to age 60 and decline in immediate recall after 60.”

    Unlike ApoE4, the ApoE3 variant is generally thought to have no influence on Alzheimer’s disease or memory decline. However, the team of scientists found that adults who had ApoE3 and a risk variant of TOMM40, were more likely to have lower memory scores. The finding suggests that TOMM40 affects memory – even when ApoE4 is not a factor.

    The team suggested that scientists should further examine the association between ApoE3 and TOMM40 variants and their combined influence on decline in different types of learning and memory.

    “Other studies may not have detected the effects of TOMM40,” Prescott said. “The results from this study provide more evidence that the causes of memory decline are even more complicated than we thought before, and they raise the question of how many findings in other studies have been attributed to ApoE4 that may be due to TOMM40 or a combination of TOMM40 and ApoE4.”


  2. Intermittent electrical brain stimulation may improve memory

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University press release:

    Intermittent electrical stimulation of an area deep inside the brain that degenerates in Alzheimer’s appears to improve working memory, scientists report.

    Conversely, continuous deep brain stimulation, like the type used for Parkinson’s and currently under study in humans with Alzheimer’s, impairs memory, according to study results in adult non-human primates reported in the journal Current Biology.

    With intermittent stimulation — currently not used in any application in the brain in patients — the monkeys were able to remember things up to five times longer in a standard test of working memory.

    “That takes a monkey from being sort of a middle-of-the-pack performer to the top of the class,” says Dr. David T. Blake, neuroscientist in the Department of Neurology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. “A monkey who is a poor performer becomes a middle-of-the-pack performer after two to three months of this stimulation.”

    In the new studies, scientists used the technique of placing hair-thin electrodes into the brain to deliver electricity and increase the activity of the nucleus basalis of Meynert, a small area in the forebrain that is inexplicably degenerated in both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

    “The natural response of many brain systems to continuous input is to start to ignore the input,” says Blake. In fact, constant stimulation in other areas like the globus pallidus garners desired clinical benefit like tremor reduction in Parkinson’s disease.

    “In the case of Parkinson’s, deep brain stimulation is effectively downregulating that part of the brain,” says Blake, the study’s corresponding author. “What we wanted to do instead was to upregulate an area.”

    Their goals included making more of the chemical messenger acetylcholine available in the region. The nucleus basalis has a large concentration of neurons that are connected to brain areas critical for memory and cognition, and under healthy conditions have a ready supply of acetylcholine that enables the important communication between them.

    As we age, acetylcholine levels in the brain naturally decrease, but Alzheimer’s causes a dramatic multiplier effect that takes us from being forgetful to a different level, says Dr. Alvin V. Terry, chair of the MCG Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and a study coauthor.

    They started with continuous stimulation, like the clinical approaches, and saw an unexpected decline in performance. Equally surprising, they found intermittent stimulation resulted in more available acetylcholine in the region and better performance.

    In fact, use of the cholinesterase inhibitor donepezil restored memory performance in animals that received constant stimulation but had no impact on those whose memory was already enhanced by intermittent stimulation.

    “Normally neurons don’t fire nonstop,” Terry notes. “They are pulsing if you will.”

    Sixty pulses per second for 20 seconds followed by a 40-second interval without stimulation provided optimal benefit in the study.

    The scientists suspect the benefit resulted from the impact of increased levels of acetylcholine directly on neurons and their supportive cells in that region. However it may also result from a slight increase in blood flow to the brain region, they write. Cholinesterase inhibitors, drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s, are known to increase blood flow to the brain about 10-15 percent in humans. Blood flow is typically reduced in Alzheimer’s.

    The MCG team has submitted a grant proposal to start a clinical trial in early Alzheimer’s using their new evidence of the benefits of intermittent pulsing. They note that a variety of brain regions and stimulation patterns are currently under study in clinical trials in the United States and Europe.

    The adult but not aged monkeys in the current study were already part of an investigation to determine whether stimulation could improve the sense of touch, which also decreases with age. The scientists realized that with stimulation the monkeys were able to detect finger taps essentially 100 percent of the time versus about 60 percent of the time without it.

    So they also used a classic working memory task in which a colored square cue shows up, then disappears, followed by a delay and then a choice between a cue-colored square and a distractor square. The monkeys get a food reward for making the cue match.

    “There was every reason to think that we would find what we found if we could actually boost acetylcholine, and switching from continuous to intermittent stimulation was the step that was necessary to do that,” Blake says.

    In fact, after months of intermittent stimulation, the monkeys got more adept at the memory test even without the stimulation.

    While that seems like more good news, the reason for the enduring effect is not 100 percent clear: it could be the brain cells make more connections, it could be more acetylcholine keeps getting released, it could be both, the scientists note.

    “There are two main classes of effects that acetylcholine has in the central nervous system,” Blake says. “It changes the way neurons talk to each other. It causes some neurons to become more active, some to become less active. The second class of effects is that it improves blood flow,” he says. More blood means more of the energy source glucose and vital oxygen get to the brain, so it’s not surprising that the brain becomes healthier over time with these increased assets, Blake says. “The idea is that it’s going to have a longer-term effect,” Terry adds.

    Deep brain stimulation, which is comparable to a pacemaker for the heart, also is more selective than drugs, appearing to only stimulate acetylcholine in the targeted brain site. We have acetylcholine receptors all over our body and cholinesterase inhibitors make more of the chemical available bodywide, increasing the risk of side effects like nausea, loss of appetite, joint pain and muscle cramping.

    In fact, responses to intermittent stimulation in the study were as strong as those experienced by patients taking high doses of cholinesterase inhibitors, the scientists report.

    “The primary drugs that are used to treat Alzheimer’s enhance this cholinergic function but they are nonspecific so they are causing all these peripheral side effects,” Terry says. “This is a much more selective way of enhancing that region.”

    Deep brain stimulation basically supplements the normal brain processes that enable the release of acetylcholine, Blake says. The brain operates on a combined biochemical and electrical system that has electrical spikes running the length of an axon — long arms that reach from one neuron to another neuron or other cell type. Where two cells connect is called a synapse and the electrical spike results in the release of acetylcholine at the synapse, which impacts the cell it touches possibly activating it electrically or changing how it functions some other way. Electrical activation of a single neuron actually also activates other neurons in close proximity.

    The success of implanted defibrillators/pacemakers and deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s has led to the exploration of its potential for problems like Alzheimer’s. The Food and Drug Administration approved deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s and essential tremor in 1997.

    Aging baby boomers, who began turning 65 in 2011, are drivers behind dramatic increases in those at risk for Alzheimer’s and other age-related dementia. By 2050, the population age 65 and over is projected to reach 83.7 million, almost double the estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


  3. ‘Waves’ of neural activity give new clues about Alzheimer’s

    September 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the SINC press release:

    While unconscious during deep sleep, millions of neurons’ activity travels across the cerebral cortex. This phenomenon, known as slow waves, is related to the consolidation of memory. The European project called SloW Dyn, led by Spanish scientists, has now revealed anomalies in this activity in mice displaying a decline similar to Alzheimer’s.

    During deep sleep, large populations of neurons in the cerebral cortex and subcortical brain structures simultaneously discharge electrical pulses. They are slow oscillations, that travel as ‘waves’ of neural activity from one point to another in the cortex once every one to four seconds.

    “This global rhythmic activity, controlled by the cerebral cortex, is associated with a lack of consciousness,” says Mavi Sanchez-Vives, director of the Neuroscience Systems group at the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS, Barcelona), whose research team has suggested that it is the default activity of the cortical circuits.

    These oscillations consolidate memory and synaptic plasticity and maintain metabolic and cellular function, among others. Within the framework of the European SloW Dyn (Slow Wave Dynamics) project which the neuroscientist leads, researchers have now discovered differences in this brain activity between healthy mice and mice with cognitive decline similar to Alzheimer’s due to premature aging.

    “We detected a decrease in the frequency of the oscillations which were also more irregular and had a lower high-frequency content of 15 to 100 hertz,” points out Sanchez-Vives, also from the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA).

    The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, highlights how some of these changes have also been registered in patients with Alzheimer’s disease for which reason, according to the authors, the animal model could help in studying the disease.

    Cause or effect of diseases

    The relationship between slow oscillations and neurodegenerative diseases is twofold. When there are pathologies that disturb cortical circuits, they are often reflected in the disruption of slow waves. “We are studying what those changes tell us about the altered underlying mechanisms,” says the researcher.

    Furthermore, the wave alterations will likely be associated with sleep problems, which may influence the development of a disease. “For example, if slow wave sleep periods are disrupted, cognitive functions such as attention and memory can be negatively affected,” Sanchez-Vives notes.

    In order to measure these oscillations, scientists use EEGs which record a person’s brain activity while sleeping. Throughout the SloW Dyn project, experts will measure the waves of thousands of people and will ascertain how they change with age. The tools which they have developed for this purpose are an instrument that registers brain activity and an app.

    “This will provide massive information about the composition of sleep, the synchronization of brain activity and the anomalies that can occur as a result of aging or specific pathologies,” highlights the scientist. Researchers hope that these records will also give them clues about the therapeutic potential of restoring slow waves when they are impaired.

    Disconnecting consciousness

    SloW Dyn has been given over 660,000 euros in funding and will last 36 months. At present, the international consortium is midway through this period. One of the ultimate objectives is to develop a model that mathematically describes these oscillations and thus be able to make predictions.

    “We are trying to understand a phenomenon which, although seemingly very simple, has the power to disconnect consciousness,” summarises Sanchez-Vives.

    The Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona), the Italian Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago (USA), the National Centre for Scientific Research (France) and the company Rythm (France) are also participating in the project led by IDIBAPS.

    Within Horizon 2020-the framework programme for funding research in the European Union-, SloW Dyn is part of the Human Brain Project, one of the Flagship Future and Emerging Technology Research Initiatives (FET Flagships).


  4. New possibility of studying how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain at different ages

    September 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Lund University press release:

    Alzheimer’s disease can lead to several widely divergent symptoms and, so far, its various expressions have mainly been observed through the behaviour and actions of patients. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have now produced images showing the changes in the brain associated with these symptoms — a development which increases knowledge and could facilitate future diagnostics and treatment.

    Symptoms vary in cases of Alzheimer’s disease and often relate to the phase of life in which the disease first occurs. People who become ill before the age of 65 often suffer early on from diminished spatial perception and impaired orientation. Elderly patients more often suffer the symptoms traditionally associated with the disease: above all, memory impairment.

    “Now we have a tool which helps us to identify and detect various sub-groups of Alzheimer’s disease. This facilitates the development of drugs and treatments adapted to various forms of Alzheimer’s,” explains Michael Schöll, researcher at Lund University and the University of Gothenburg.

    Diagnostics could also be facilitated, mainly among younger patients in whom it is particularly difficult to arrive at a correct diagnosis.

    Confident in approval for clinical use

    The findings, published in the journal Brain, are based on studies of around 60 Alzheimer’s patients at Skåne University Hospital and a control group consisting of 30 people with no cognitive impairment.

    Once Alzheimer’s disease has taken hold, it gradually results in the tau protein, present in the brain, forming lumps and destroying the transport routes of the neurons. This can be clearly detected with the new imaging method.

    The method includes a device known as a PET camera and a trace substance, a particular molecule, which binds to tau. The imaging method is currently only used in research, where the current study is one of several contributing to increased knowledge about the disease:

    “The changes in the various parts of the brain that we can see in the images correspond logically to the symptoms in early onset and late onset Alzheimer’s patients respectively,” explains Oskar Hansson, professor of neurology at Lund University and consultant at Skåne University Hospital.

    Oskar Hansson believes that the imaging method will be in clinical use within a few years.


  5. A decline in navigational skills could predict neurodegenerative disease

    September 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cell Press press release:

    Changes in how humans map their surroundings and construct and follow directions as they age have been understudied compared to effects on memory and learning. However, age-related declines in navigational ability are independent of those more well-known cognitive downturns, and could form the basis for tools for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers discuss this possibility in a review published August 30 in the journal Neuron.

    “In humans, navigation is much more cumbersome to research than learning or memory,” says Thomas Wolbers, a neuroscientist specializing in aging and cognition at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. “But it has such a dramatic impact on everyday life, and the key structures of the ‘navigational network’ in the brain are very sensitive to both ordinary healthy aging and pathological factors.”

    Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed based on an individual’s medical history, genetic risk factors, and performance on tests that measure memory, language, and reasoning impairments. Wolbers and his colleagues from the United States and the United Kingdom suggest that navigational impairments are among the earliest signs of the Alzheimer’s progression. Healthy older individuals, for instance, strongly prefer to map objects and landmarks relative to their body position (an egocentric strategy) rather than in relation to external objects such as global landmarks or boundaries (an allocentric strategy). This strategic bias makes it much more difficult for them to learn the spatial layout of an environment and can thus reduce their mobility, a worrisome sign in younger people.

    “It can take up to 10 years after the onset of Alzheimer’s for someone to show abnormal results on the standard cognitive tests that are available today, and that’s 10 years that you’ve lost for treating it, should an effective therapy come along down the road,” says Wolbers. “This is where navigation-based diagnostics could contribute, by reducing that window.”

    Navigational testing is held back by a pair of obstacles, though both are receding. The first is the lack of standard tests for navigational tasks and population norms with which to evaluate results. More-affordable and portable virtual reality technology is making standardized test conditions possible, however, while co-author Jan Wiener (@Jan_Wiener) of the United Kingdom’s Bournemouth University is one of the scientists behind the mobile app Sea Hero Quest, a game designed to collect population data on navigation decisions for dementia research.

    The second holdup is that navigational abilities vary wildly from person to person, more so than for memory or other cognitive functions, Wolbers says. An effective diagnostic tool might need to be longitudinal, tracking an individual’s navigation behaviors at different points in time throughout their life and looking for signs of early or accelerated decline. “We need longitudinal human data to be able to definitively say whether a change in navigational function can be used to predict whether Alzheimer’s or any other neurodegenerative disease will develop later on,” Wolbers says.

    With such data and the improved virtual reality setups, the researchers conclude that a navigational test battery analogous to those used for memory and learning will be feasible. For now, Wolbers suggests that people train and use the navigational skills hardwired into their brains, especially in an age of commonplace in-car and handheld GPS technology.

    “There is growing evidence that if you rely too much on that technology it can have a detrimental effect on your navigational ability and in the long term may even be a risk to develop pathological conditions,” he says.


  6. Imagining an action-consequence relationship can boost memory

    September 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care press release:

    The next time you hear about the possibility of rain on the weather forecast, try imagining the umbrella tip being lodged in your home’s door lock, blocking you from locking it. This mental exercise could prevent you from leaving home without an umbrella.

    Imagining an action between two objects (the umbrella being lodged in the door lock) and a potential consequence (not being able to lock the door) may help people improve their memory for relationships with other objects, according to a recent Baycrest Health Sciences study published in the Memory & Cognition journal.

    This finding is part of an in-depth study into a natural memory strategy — termed “unitization” — that was used by an individual with amnesia, D.A., who was able to create new memories despite his condition.

    Better understanding of this strategy could allow it to be used in personalized memory rehabilitation to help older adults and those with amnesia bypass gaps in their abilities, says Dr. Jennifer Ryan, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute.

    “Previous research has shown that imagining two objects fusing into one will help people work around these memory deficits; but our work demonstrated that understanding the relationship between the two items is also important,” says Dr. Ryan, who is also a psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto. “We know that cognitive function is impaired during aging and this strategy could be one workaround for minor memory problems, depending on what you need to achieve.”

    The study evaluated the performance of 80 healthy older adults (between the ages of 61 to 88) on a memory task. The group was first trained and tested on the task to gather initial results. They were then either taught one of the three individual features of unitization (fusion, motion, action/consequence) or the overall unitization strategy. After learning these new approaches, participants were tested again to see if this helped their performance.

    Older adults trained to improve their memory using only the action/consequence feature of unitization saw the greatest memory improvements.

    “We are trying to understand what’s important to unitization and what people need to learn in order to benefit,” says Dr. Ryan. “There is no single strategy that will fix your memory, but one method may be more be suitable than another.”

    Next steps for the research will be to explore how the brain’s systems support different memory strategies. With additional funding, researchers could explore incorporating this memory strategy with a personalized brain rehabilitation program for older adults.

    This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and the Canada Research Chairs Program.


  7. Study links mental health to retirement savings

    by Ashley

    From the Medica Research Institute press release:

    The question of how mental health status affects decisions regarding retirement savings is becoming a pressing issue in the United States. Key factors contributing to this issue include the tenuous state of the Social Security system, greater use of defined-contribution pension plans by employers, longer lifespans, and the rise of depression and other mental health issues in older Americans.

    In the latest edition of the journal Health Economics, researchers Vicki Bogan of Cornell University and Angela Fertig, research investigator at Medica Research Institute, find that mental health problems have a large and significant negative effect on retirement savings.

    “A growing number of households are dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety,” says Fertig. “Our project studies the effect that mental health issues have on retirement savings because we need to understand how health problems may affect the economic security of this growing population.”

    The researchers found that psychological distress is associated with:

    • up to a 62 percent lower probability of holding retirement accounts
    • $15,000 less held in retirement savings accounts by single households and $42,000 less held by married couples
    • up to a 47 percent higher probability that married couples withdraw from their retirement accounts

    The results are generally consistent across single and married households. However, the study found some evidence to indicate that singles with psychological distress may divert funds away from retirement accounts, while married individuals with psychological distress may withdraw more from their retirement accounts. The study did not find evidence indicating that psychological distress affects retirement savings behavior through financial literacy or cognitive limitations.

    The effect sizes found are large, suggesting that more employer management and government regulation of defined-contribution pension plans, IRAs, and Keogh retirement accounts may be warranted.

    “The magnitude of these effects underscores the importance of employer management policy and government regulation of these accounts to help ensure households have adequate retirement savings,” says Fertig. “Better understanding the link between mental health and retirement savings decisions could inform policy interventions that may encourage households to save sufficient funds for retirement through defined contribution plans and shape national changes to the defined contribution plan withdrawal penalties.”


  8. Noninvasive eye scan could detect key signs of Alzheimer’s disease years before patients show symptoms

    September 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cedars-Sinai press release:

    Cedars-Sinai neuroscience investigators have found that Alzheimer’s disease affects the retina — the back of the eye — similarly to the way it affects the brain. The study also revealed that an investigational, noninvasive eye scan could detect the key signs of Alzheimer’s disease years before patients experience symptoms.

    Using a high-definition eye scan developed especially for the study, researchers detected the crucial warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease: amyloid-beta deposits, a buildup of toxic proteins. The findings represent a major advancement toward identifying people at high risk for the debilitating condition years sooner.

    The study, published in JCI Insight, comes amid a sharp rise in the number of people affected by the disease. Today, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to triple by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

    “The findings suggest that the retina may serve as a reliable source for Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis,” said the study’s senior lead author, Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, PhD, a principal investigator and associate professor in the departments of Neurosurgery and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai.

    “One of the major advantages of analyzing the retina is the repeatability, which allows us to monitor patients and potentially the progression of their disease.”

    Yosef Koronyo, MSc, a research associate in the Department of Neurosurgery and first author on the study, said another key finding from the new study was the discovery of amyloid plaques in previously overlooked peripheral regions of the retina. He noted that the plaque amount in the retina correlated with plaque amount in specific areas of the brain.

    “Now we know exactly where to look to find the signs of Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible,” said Koronyo.

    Keith L. Black, MD, chair of Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Neurosurgery and director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, who co-led the study, said the findings offer hope for early detection when intervention could be most effective.

    “Our hope is that eventually the investigational eye scan will be used as a screening device to detect the disease early enough to intervene and change the course of the disorder with medications and lifestyle changes,” said Black.

    For decades, the only way to officially diagnose the debilitating condition was to survey and analyze a patient’s brain after the patient died. In recent years, physicians have relied on positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brains of living people to provide evidence of the disease but the technology is expensive and invasive, requiring the patient to be injected with radioactive tracers.

    In an effort to find a more cost-effective and less invasive technique, the Cedars-Sinai research team collaborated with investigators at NeuroVision Imaging, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, University of Southern California, and UCLA to translate their noninvasive eye screening approach to humans.

    The published results are based on a clinical trial conducted on 16 Alzheimer’s disease patients who drank a solution that includes curcumin, a natural component of the spice turmeric. The curcumin causes amyloid plaque in the retina to “light up” and be detected by the scan. The patients were then compared to a group of younger, cognitively normal individuals.

    Koronyo-Hamaoui and Koronyo also were key authors of the original results, published in the journal Neuroimage in 2011 and first presented at the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Conference in 2010.


  9. Burdens of spousal caregiving alleviated by appreciation

    by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    The fact that spouses often become caregivers for their ailing partners is quite common in American life — and few roles are more stressful.

    Yet helping behaviors, which are at the core of caregiving, typically relieve stress, according to Michael Poulin, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Psychology.

    When discussing spousal care, the draining demands of caregiving and the uplifting effects of helping stand in apparent contrast to one another.

    But recent research shows that the time caregivers spend actively helping a loved one can improve the caregiver’s sense of well-being — and now, Poulin, an expert in empathy, human generosity and stress, is part of a research team that has published a study exploring why that’s the case.

    Their research points to the specific conditions necessary to alleviate the burdens of spousal caregiving.

    Spending time attempting to provide help can be beneficial for a caregiver’s mental and physical well-being, but only during those times when the caregiver sees that their help has made a difference and that difference is noticed and recognized by their partner,” he says.

    “These conclusions are important because we know that spousal caregiving is an enormous burden, emotionally, physically and economically,” he says. “If we can find ways for community resources to help create those conditions we might be able to make a difference in the lives of millions of people.”

    The findings of the study, led by Joan Monin, Yale School of Public Health, Stephanie Brown, Stony Brook University, Kenneth Langa, University of Michigan, and Poulin, appear in the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology.

    Poulin says more than 30 years of research shows that being a caregiver is among the most stressful, emotionally burdensome and physically demanding roles a person can take on. Spouses who are caregivers show decreased immune function, increased signs of physiological stress and are at greater risk for physical and mental illness.

    Yet other studies, including much of Poulin’s own research, suggest that the act of providing help to somebody is typically stress-relieving and is associated with better emotional and physical well-being.

    “The problem is that when you’re a caregiver, not all of your time is spent helping,” says Poulin. “Sometimes all you can do is witness the person’s state while being passively on duty.”

    But previous research confirmed that the act of helping in this context was associated with improving the caretakers’ well-being, a finding that was true even when general caregiving was broken downs into tasks, like feeding or bathing.

    “This is what we wanted to get at,” says Poulin. “We knew that something about being helpful is good in these circumstances. But why? Is it just being active? Is doing something better than doing nothing? Or is it that doing something to improve another person’s well-being is what matters?”

    The research team conducted two studies with spouses caring for partners with chronic pain.

    In the first study, 73 participants reported caregiving activity and their accompanying emotions in three-hour intervals. This allowed the researchers to look at the amount of help given and how much that help pleased the spouse and subsequently affected the caregiver.

    The second study involved 43 caregivers who completed a diary at the end of the day that detailed the help they provided and the appreciation they received.

    The findings suggest that spouses caring for a partner feel happier and report fewer physical symptoms when they believe their help is appreciated.

    “Importantly, this study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that it is important to target emotional communication between spouses in daily support interactions to improve psychological well-being in the context of chronic conditions and disability,” the authors write in their paper.

    It’s an important point to consider, not just today, but for the future, notes Poulin.

    “As the baby boomers continue to age, this phenomenon of spousal caregiving will continue to increase,” he says.


  10. Study suggests gut instinct for danger as sharp in seniors as in young adults

    by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    Our gut instinct about whether a stranger poses a threat is as good when we’re 80 as when we’re 18, according to new research.

    Older people are as good as young adults at knowing when someone is potentially aggressive, and being streetwise appears to be a skill honed in childhood but not fully reliable until adulthood.

    The new research, led by Dr Liam Satchell, of the University of Portsmouth, is the third study he has led on examining our ability at various ages to gauge others’ aggression.

    He said: Older people can be reassured that their gut instincts about who is posing a danger are, generally, excellent, there was no difference in the ability of each adult group.

    “The results could encourage older people to recognise they are street smart, that their gut instincts are spot on.”

    Dr Satchell wanted to examine our ability to assess real threats in strangers as we age against a backdrop of much debate on the effects of fear of crime in older people.

    He said: “When walking down a street late at night, people may feel concerned about the threat posed by an approaching person. They may cross a street or change their behaviour and might even stop going out.

    “There could be lots of factors which might make an older person frightened of being a victim of crime, but research on the relationship between age and fear of crime isn’t clear-cut. It’s likely to be influenced by many factors, including the type of crime feared, gender and a person’s belief in their ability to defend themselves.

    “Until now, there has been little conclusive evidence of older people’s ability to detect everyday street threats.”

    Previous research has shown that simply watching someone walk communicates a great deal about the likelihood of them being aggressive.

    Dr Satchell’s series of studies have shown that feelings of threat and intimidation are reliable at telling us how aggressive other people are, and that this is a skill that improves gradually through childhood, reaches its peak in adulthood, and doesn’t decline in older age.

    “A lot of people are afraid walking at night, but some people see risk where there is none,” he said.

    “It’s important we can make quick, accurate judgments of the danger posed by others. All our studies have shown adults are very good at detecting traits in others, at recognising danger. Even when we simulate a shadowy outline of a person at a distance, people can readily recognise a potential aggressor. The accuracy of our social perceptions in adulthood is robust, but children may need more time to develop the relevant experiences.”

    The latest results are from a small-scale study and he said more research needs to be done to assess, for example, whether the older people who agree to take part in a scientific study are, by nature, also confident and likely to be less worried about crime.

    His study examined threat perception in 39 people aged 59-91, and in 87 people aged 20-28.

    Nearly all — 95 per cent — of both groups correctly gauged the aggression, or level of intimidation, of five women and four men filmed walking on a treadmill. The ‘walkers’ had been selected after taking a renowned aggression test to ensure they represented a wide cross-section of degrees of aggression.

    Dr Satchell and his co-authors, Dr Lucy Akehurst, Dr Paul Morris and Dr Claire Nee, are members of the University of Portsmouth’s International Centre for Research in Forensic Psychology.

    The study is the latest in a series of research papers he has led on which together build a picture of how well we recognise the aggression of an approaching person from childhood to old age. He has found that as children we are generally poor at judging threat, that we develop sharper instincts around the age of 18-20, and that these instincts don’t decline as we age.

    He said: “The findings overall suggest we develop a streetwise ability, that we are able to make judgments about others and our safety, once we reach adulthood.”

    Some 13-15 year olds were very accurate in their assessments of threat in an earlier study, but in general, there is a lot of variation in young people’s reliability, whereas, post-18, almost everyone was very good, they made the same judgements and they were accurate. They have learned the ability to detect threat.