Category Archives: Dementia

Alzheimer’s screening In Ten Minuets On Laptop

According to leading psychiatrist Barbara Sahakian, (Professor Sahakian has developed her own test which can be done on a laptop in ten minutes and this could be available in doctor’s surgeries within the next couple of years)   professor of neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge, everyone over the age of 60 should be offered screening for Alzheimer’s disease at their local doctor’s surgery.

Professor Sahakian says that the NHS and private health services should be making more effort to detect mental disorders earlier and that stigma surrounding mental health has resulted in symptoms of mental health problems being ignored until the patient hits a crisis point. She adds that one of the top challenges is to integrate screening into routine healthcare.

Numbers affected

Alzheimer’s Disease currently affects around 465,000 people in the UK and over 35 million people globally. It is a progressive disease which means that the brain continues to deteriorate over a period of time and will ultimately end in death.

At the moment a third of cases aren’t diagnosed and are left untreated and in some areas this could be as high as 74 percent.

“I am shocked some people are allowed to deteriorate so much and then finally someone figures out that they probably have Alzheimer’s disease and takes them to the GP and psychiatrist. By that time the drugs don’t work as effectively. It is tragic” said Professor Sahakian.

Hope on the horizon

Once someone has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, neurological function has already declined and early screening would give patients access to treatment that could help preserve attention and concentration for longer.

Professor Sahakian also said that neuroprotective drugs that could slow down or even stop the progress of Alzheimer’s disease could be available within the next ten years and possibly within five years if side effects aren’t a problem.

“If they don’t have many side-effects, they’ll be available within five years. But if they have to do more work on reducing side-effects, it will be ten years. If there is a neuroprotective agent and it stops the disease process, then presumably you would die of something else, it wouldn’t be Alzheimer’s disease.”

The professor’s comments came at the launch of an international campaign to improve treatment of mental health disorders.

New tests

Blood tests are currently being developed around the world that could spot the early signs of the disease. Other tests are able to spot changes in memory that are not linked with normal forgetfulness.

Professor Sahakian has developed her own test which can be done on a laptop in ten minutes and this could be available in doctor’s surgeries within the next couple of years.

Could “Hazy Recall” or an “Overgeneral Memory” signal future depression?

According to an article in the New York Times, studies into depression are revealing that the way we actually remember things could indicate future depression.

It’s all to do with a phenomenon called “overgeneral memory” which basically means that during memory recall, we miss out the details of past experiences, and a tendency to make a habit out of missing out the details has been linked to depression.

For example, participants in a study carried out at Oxford, Northwestern University in Illinois, were given a cue word and had 30 seconds to come up with a specific memory of a single event. One cue word was “rejected” and a specific response to that cue word was “A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with my boss and my ideas were rejected”.

On the other hand a vague or hazy response by another participant was “my brothers are always talking about going on holiday without me”. You can see that this second response was not a specific memory at all but referred to something that happened on more than one occasion.

Overgeneral memory is “an unsung vulnerability factor for unhelpful reactions when things go wrong in life,” said Mark Williams, the clinical psychologist who has been leading the Oxford studies.

According to the NYT Dr Williams first discovered overgeneral memory purely by chance back in the 80’s when he asked research subjects to write down memories after giving them certain cues but thought he hadn’t made the instructions clear enough when some of them left the page blank. He also found in a previous study that inducing an overgeneral memory style in participants made them less able to solve problems.

Research is now being carried out by Oxford University on thousands of youngsters to see whether those who display overgeneral memory traits are more likely to suffer from depression in the future.

“Based on everything we know of memory specificity and depression, there’s a good chance we will find these effects,” said Dirk Hermans, a research psychologist at the University of Leuven in Belgium who collaborates with Dr. Williams.

Of course sometimes it’s helpful to have an overgeneral memory as it could be a way to lessen painful or traumatic memories but the problems seem to begin when it becomes the norm to do so.

“If you’re unhappy and you want to be happy, it’s helpful to have memories that you can navigate through to come up with specific solutions,” Dr. Williams said. “It’s like a safety net.”

According to Dr. Williams overgeneral memory can be helped by “mindfulness”, a form of meditation that encourages us to accept negative thoughts rather than trying to avoid them as by becoming more tolerant of negative memories we are less likely to try to escape them, a tendency which can lead to overgenerality.

New Work could Facilitate Identification of Disruptions

There is optimism amongst researchers that Bilingual Neurons could now reveal the secrets of brain disease. University of Montreal and McGill Universities have made a new discovery. It is that of ‘cellular bilingualism.’ This is the allowing of just a single neuron to use more than one method (normally two hence the ‘bi’) of communication in the exchange of information.

“Our work could facilitate the identification of mechanisms that disrupt the function of dopaminergic, serotonergic and cholinergic neurons in diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and depression,” was stated in writing recently by Dr. Louis-Eric Trudeau of the University of Montreal’s Department of Pharmacology and Dr. Salah El Mestikawy, who is pertaining to a researcher role at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. She is also a professor at McGill’s Department of Psychiatry.

With much of the details of their research now published in the Nature Reviews Neuroscience Journal, there is definite cause for the optimism they are showing. The results of their research and papers show how a large deal of the neurons of the brain find it possible to control function in the activity of the cerebral through using two chemical messengers.

This simultaneous process is synonymous with neurotransmitters. The name they have attributed to this messaging system is ‘contransmission.’ Detailed in the results of Dr. Trudeau is how; ‘The neurons in the nervous system both in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system are typically classified by the main transmitter they use.” The doctor detailed how different neurons use different chemicals to aid the ‘contransmission’ process with for example; dopaminergic neurons using dopamine as a transmitter. This means of communication is used in many areas such as in learning and motivation.

Where the research sees benefit towards the identifications that will assist in uncovering the reasons behind brain disease is, where there is a breakdown in the process or a ‘malfunction.’ They have found that this breakdown is evident in mental illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease or in Schizophrenia. The researchers have found that the information is being relayed in two ways, but in the diseased brain the information is transmitting not on a simultaneous basis. Depending on the chemical being used by the neuron the time scale under which the information is delivered is different.

If for example glutamate is being used for the transmission of the message along with dopamine then the glutamate message will take longer to get the message to where it is needed.

The same process was found in the brain by the research team when neurons use serotonin (Of particular importance to depression sufferers) and acetylcholine. These chemicals are used in the transmission of information pertaining to controlling aggression, food intake, mood and impulsive actions. They have uncovered that there is an imbalance here when Parkinson’s disease is present along with the addiction to drugs.

“We know very little about the role of ‘contransmission’ in disease, and the regulation of behaviour, however,” it was warned b y Dr. Trudeau. The doctor vowed; “That will have to be the subject of future studies.”

Wheels in Motion of understanding Elderly Depression

The heightened awareness of backdrops against which the objects on the road are moving whilst driving has been determined as the likely reason for poor elderly driving performance. This is as opposed to the belief that it is worsening sight alone that is responsible. The consequences of this realisation are many, and may provide a pathway to understanding the reasoning for the onset of depression in the elderly.

The cause of this phenomenon has been isolated by a team of scientists led by University of Rochester Assistant Professor Duje Tadin.  The results are surprising and may assist in the training of older drivers to be better ones altogether.

Not only this, but the study will also serve to aid psychiatrists in understanding the brain processes of the elderly that are seen as abnormal. Such ‘abnormalities are present when psychological conditions like schizophrenia and depression are evident. The minds of young and older human-beings have a range of differences. In a healthy and young brain there is an active suppression of the background motion whilst driving within the temporal visual area. This allows for concentration on the motions of the actual objects that need to be taken into account whilst driving.

The elderly brain however does not bring about the same suppression of data. This is evident in the healthy older brain, and also in the brain that is affected by illness like depression and schizophrenia. As there are a limited amount of resources available to the brain for functions, the use of the cognitive abilities by the elderly in dealing with the unnecessary background leads to a deteriorated driving ability.

“The amount of visual information around us is huge, and we don’t have the brain power to process it all,” Dr Tadin the key researcher in the new study stated. “Evolutionarily speaking, moving objects are the most important visual features to detect quickly, because they could be your lunch, or they could want to eat you for lunch. It just makes sense that our vision prioritizes processing them.”

The researchers have determined what was responsible for the worsened driving by using Transcranial Magnetic stimulation; this sees magnetic coils placed on the subject’s head. Once in place an electric signal is sent through the nodes into the brain for 15 minutes. This inhibits the brain function temporarily. They used the activity or non activity caused by the turning on and off this stimulus to determine the ability of the patients both elderly and of youth, with their ability to process what they saw and how they saw it.

They used a computer program in the process as opposed to having the individuals drive the highways and byways with electrical nodes attached to their heads.

Can Green Tea help protect against Alzheimer’s disease?

According to recent research conducted by Newcastle University in the UK, drinking green tea on a regular basis may help protect against the devastating brain disorder known as Alzheimer’s disease as well as slow down the progression of cancer. Now this is all very exciting news but is it as good as it sounds?

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease resulting in problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. The disease is incurable, progressive, and ends in death. Anything that could help protect against, or even prevent this, would be welcome news indeed.

We’ve probably all heard that Green Tea can be good for us as it supposedly helps to neutralise free radicals thanks to the antioxidants in green tea. Now scientists are starting to shed more light on both how green tea can benefit health and why it just might be effective against Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies have shown a link between an accumulation of a protein known as beta-amyloid and dementia. In the Newcastle study they found that digested green tea appeared to offer protection against the effect of beta-amyloid on nerve cells, hence the assumption that it would protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s all down to the polyphenols of which there are different kinds including “Flavonoids” and “tannins”. Polyphenols are antioxidants which are found in plants, fruits and vegetables and which contribute to health by helping to eliminate toxins in the body.

However, although certain foods, and in this case green tea, may contain polyphenols, what happens to them after they are consumed and are they still as powerful? This latest study took into account the effect that the digestive system can have on green tea and found that the polyphenols were still active after having been digested. In other words, their beneficial effect was still there.

It’s important to note that the research which has been published in the journal Phytomedicine, does not prove conclusively that green tea will protect against Alzheimer’s and nor does it prove that it will slow down the progression of cancer.

We have to remember that this study was conducted in a laboratory and we have no way of knowing yet whether the same results will apply to humans directly. However, it is progress and it is promising in that it does pave the way for more research into this area.

NICE reversal on Alzheimer’s Drugs

Alzheimer’s disease is a serious condition that involves progressive deterioration of the brain leading to complete dementia. It is extremely distressing not only for the sufferer but also for their family and friends who have to watch their loved one deteriorate to an extent where they may no longer even recognise them.

Up until now, people with mild or early stage Alzheimer’s have been denied drugs that could delay the progression of the disease.

Now following some high profile campaigns and lobbying from pressure groups, who maintained it was unethical to allow sufferers to wait until they got much worse before offering drugs that could help, NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) has given the go ahead for the drugs to be used in patients with mild forms of Alzheimer’s.

The three drugs involved are and Aricept (Donepezil), Reminyl (Galantamine) and Excelon (Rivastigmine), which were previously only available to people with moderate or severe Alzheimer’s. NICE also recommended the use of memantine for severe disease and for some patients with moderate disease.

According to Sir Andrew Dillon, who is the Chief Executive of NICE, the new guidelines have come about as a result of new evidence on the cost effectiveness of drug treatment and the cost of Alzheimer’s to the National Health Service.

“We are pleased to now be able to recommend these three drugs for both mild and moderate Alzheimer’s disease and another for moderate or severe Alzheimer’s, extending recommendations made in 2007

“Since 2007 clinical trials have continued to show the positive effects of these drugs and, in the case of memantine, have reduced the uncertainty about its clinical effectiveness. In addition, we now have more information about the costs of living with and treating this very distressing disease, as it progresses through its mild, moderate and severe stages” he said.

Andrew Chidgey, head of policy and public affairs at Alzheimer’s Society, told the Press Association that this was a victory for people with Alzheimer’s and their carers, many of whom have been campaigning for this for years.

“These drugs don’t work for everyone” he said, “but for some people they can radically improve their quality of life. We now need more people to be diagnosed early and for them to receive the treatment, support and advice that they desperately need.”

The final guidance from NICE is expected to be published in March.

Could arthritis offer protection against Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating condition that is characterised by progressive cognitive decline leading to severe dementia and an increasing dependence on others for personal and practical care.

Rheumatoid arthritis or RA is an autoimmune disease that is characterised by inflammation of the joints and tissues surrounding the joints, and can also affect the organs. In an autoimmune disease the immune system, which is designed to protect the body against infections and disease, mistakenly attacks healthy tissues.

How can one benefit the other?

The BBC recently reported on a study which found that a protein that is produced in Rheumatoid arthritis might actually protect against the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study which was carried out by researchers from the University of South Florida’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Centre and Research Institute along with Saitama Medical University in Japan, found that the protein known as GM-CSF, levels of which are elevated in people with RA, can trigger the immune system into destroying the protein plaques that are a feature of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research involved mice that had been genetically engineered to have a condition that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. These mice were then given injections of the protein for a period of almost 3 weeks.

What the researchers found was that there was an increase in what are called Microglial cells in the brains of mice that had been injected with the protein. The mice performed better in learning and memory tests than those who hadn’t been injected with the protein and even normal mice that had been injected with the protein were able to improve their performance compared to normal mice that hadn’t received the protein.

Microglial cells work in much the same way as white blood cells do in that they mop up invaders in the body.

Scientists have already noticed that there appears to be a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in people suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis but many believe that this may be due to the use of certain types of anti inflammatory medication in the treatment of RA. This study suggests another possibility.

It’s also important to note that this study was not a study on humans but on mice and as such no definitive conclusions can be drawn as to how effective treatment with the protein would be in humans with Alzheimer’s disease. No doubt future research in this area will be forthcoming and enlightening.

Dementia should be a world priority says report

As life expectancy increases so does the number of people suffering from dementia and according to the BBC, a recent report said the number of people with dementia is expected to double in the next twenty years and triple by 2050.

These figures are quite shocking alone but the financial costs associated with dealing with dementia are just as disturbing.

The World Alzheimer’s report says the costs will amount to more than 1 percent of the world’s gross domestic product ($604 billion) this year.

To put that in some sort of perspective, the BBC reports that this amounts to more than the revenue of retail giant Wal-Mart or the oil company Exxon Mobil and if it were an economy, it would be the 18th largest economy in the world.

The World Alzheimer Report now wants the World Health Organisation to make dementia a world priority.

“Governments must show greater leadership, working with all stakeholders, to drive solutions to the long term care issue” said Professor Martin Prince, of the UK’s Institute of Psychiatry and co-author of the report.

What is needed is more money put into caring for dementia sufferers says the report and better care plans, but there also needs to be new research and treatment options to help avoid a major problem in the future.

“The scale of this crisis cries out for global action” said Marc Wortmann, head of Alzheimer’s disease International, reported the BBC.

“History shows that major diseases can be made manageable – and even preventable – with sufficient global awareness and the political will to make substantial investments in research and care options.”

Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe the kinds of symptoms that occur when the brain is in decline. There can be different types of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is only one of them.

The symptoms include loss of memory, a decline in the ability to perform tasks like reading, writing or even talking, and changes in emotion and mood.

As the dementia progresses the individual will find it increasingly difficult to cope on a day to day basis, even with simple tasks like getting dressed or preparing a meal and will need to rely heavily on others.

This means that not only do individuals with dementia suffer; it can also have a devastating effect on other family members too.

Could Vitamin B stave off dementia?

A brand new study has found that vitamin B could significantly slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating form of dementia.

The researchers from the Oxford University Project to investigate Memory and Aging discovered that taking high doses of B vitamins could half the rate of brain shrinkage in people who are showing early signs of the disease.

In a healthy person, the average rate at which the brain shrinks is around 0.5 percent a year from the age of 60 and beyond but in Alzheimer’s patients, the brain shrinks at a rate of around 2.5 percent a year.

The study involved 168 elderly people who were experiencing mild cognitive impairment, a condition which can be an early warning sign of dementia.

Half of the participants were given a daily dose of vitamin B6, B12 and folate at dosages which were much higher than the recommended daily amounts and the other half were given a placebo.

After a period of two years of taking the vitamins, those who had been taking the B vitamins showed an average of a 30 percent slower rate of brain shrinkage than those who had been taking the placebo and in some cases it was more than 50 percent slower putting the shrinkage rate on about the same level as those who do not have mild cognitive impairment.

The researchers believe that the positive effect of the vitamin B was down to how it controls a substance known as homocysteine, high levels of which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and faster brain shrinkage.

However, it isn’t a good idea to start taking high doses of B vitamins, or indeed any other vitamins without medical supervision.

The BBC reports Chris Kennard, chair of the Medical Research Council’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, as saying:

“We must be cautious when recommending supplements like vitamin B as there are separate health risks if taken in too high doses.

“Further research is required before we can recommend the supplement as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.”

Professor David Smith, who was the lead author of the study, said that the results were more significant than what anyone could have predicted but that more research was required to see whether high doses of B Vitamins could actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease from developing in people with mild cognitive impairment.