Archive for August, 2010

In three days, it will be 15 years since my father passed away. September also marks one year since I started this blog. It has opened my eyes (and my brain) to so many things. I’ve written about a variety of subjects, a number of them focused on research. Most recently, I got involved in a study at George Mason University (GMU). As a part of this study, I consented for them to do an MRI of my brain which they did last week. The anticipation of it all was more nerve-wracking than the procedure itself. The MRI machine at GMU is just for brain research and is smaller than the typical machine that is used for diagnosing other diseases and problems in hospitals and imaging centers.

Also last week, I went to a near-by assisted living facility where a nurse practitioner from Georgetown University Medical Center spoke on Research in Alzheimer’s Disease: Hope for the Future. Her talk will be the topic of another blog post, but one of the main difficulties that research studies are facing is the lack of participants. There are many research studies going on across the country. In a previous post on research, I mentioned a government Web site where you can look at some clinical studies recruiting for volunteers. Even the study that I’m in at George Mason University is looking for more subjects. Send me an e-mail for more information — info@aboutalz.com.

So if you’ve ever wondered if Alzheimer’s disease research needs volunteers, the answer is a resounding yes! It will not cost you anything except your time. You will be contributing toward understanding the staggering fact that every 70 seconds, a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and with our aging population, the numbers will continue to rise. We must do all that we can to stop this and help find a cure!

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I saw an ad in a favorite little periodical I receive called the Golden Gazette. It’s published for senior adults in the county I live in. The ad read: Healthy Adults 40 & Older Needed for Research Study. That caught my attention. I read further:

The ARCH Lab at George Mason University, Fairfax campus, needs healthy adults age 40 to 65 to participate in behavior studies on memory and attention.

Bingo! I qualified age-wise and I’m definitely interested in anything related to memory. I e-mailed them immediately and was accepted into the longitudinal four-year study. There was a small monetary compensation, but I didn’t care about that. I was curious to see what the testing was about and if they are going to track me over a four-year period, then I’d definitely be interested in any changes that may occur.

The official name of the study is “Allelic Association to Study the Genetics of Cognitive Aging.” As defined by the Genetics Home Reference, an allele is one of two or more versions of a gene. An individual inherits two alleles for each gene, one from each parent. Click on the Genetics Home Reference link for more information.

According to the Consent Form that I signed, the research is being conducted to study the effect of normal variation in genes on processes of attention and memory in both healthy individuals and those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. They hope to better understand the role of genetics in individual differences in attention and memory.

The test was comprised of several parts using the computer, paper and pencil, getting cheek cells for DNA analysis. An MRI would be done at a separate time, if one is interested.

Parts of the test were quite long which tested your attention span. Included in the computer test were the following:

  • A set of dot(s) flashed and you needed to determine if the second set of dot(s) was in the same position as the first.
  • A group of letters was presented and every time it included a pink “T” you needed to push a button.
  • Each time a vowel flashed you needed to push a button.

Included in the non-computer test were the following:

  • Puzzle completion
  • Repeating a story that was read
  • Vocabulary — defining words
  • You were read a series of mixed up letters and numbers and you needed to put them in order, numbers first (from memory)
  • Reciting numbers backwards by 7

Results of the study are for research only and the identity of the participants will not be revealed. Participation is voluntary and you can withdraw at any time. I’m glad to have George Mason University close by and to have the opportunity to participate.

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Last spring the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reported that for males, by delaying retirement, the age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was also delayed. On average, each additional year of work staved off Alzheimer’s disease by seven weeks.

Not known are questions such as:

  • Did retirement somehow bring on the disease?
  • Are people who are at risk for Alzheimer’s unlikely to keep working?

The researchers speculate that employment challenges may help to keep the mind healthy and agile as one ages. For many people, it’s a financial necessity to keep working, but it might prove to be a great benefit to the brain. Click here to read the abstract of the study.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is:

  • responsible for $172 billion in annual costs in the United States
  • the seventh leading cause of death in America
  • not limited to the elderly, with people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s developing the disease
  • currently affecting more than 5 million Americans, resulting in 11 million Alzheimer and dementia caregivers who provide $144 billion in unpaid care for their loved ones
  • a disease someone in America develops every 70 seconds and by mid-century someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.

The statistics are staggering. If a person enjoys work, then by all means it might be a good way to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, if one does not enjoy working or if it is too stressful, then delaying retirement would not be a good option. There are so many things that one can do in retirement to continue to stimulate the brain.

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10 Ways to Maintain Your Brain

The Alzheimer’s Association has a booklet called, Maintain Your Brain, and subtitled — there is growing evidence that lifestyle can affect your brain health. You can obtain this 16-page online booklet by clicking here. If you want a quick summary, the 10 ways to maintain your brain discussed are:

  1. Head first
    Good health starts with your brain. It’s one of the most vital body organs, and it needs care and maintenance.
  2. Take brain health to heart
    What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Do something every day to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke — all of which can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.
  3. Your numbers count
    Keep your body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels within recommended ranges.
  4. Feed your brain
    Eat less fat and more antioxidant-rich foods.
  5. Work your body
    Physical exercise keeps the blood flowing and may encourage new brain cells. Do what you can — like walking 30 minutes a day — to keep both body and mind active.
  6. Jog your mind
    Keeping your brain active and engaged increases its vitality and builds reserves of brain cells and connections. Read, write, play games, learn new things, do crossword puzzles.
  7. Connect with others
    Leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social elements may be most likely to prevent dementia. Be social, converse, volunteer, join a club or take a class.
  8. Heads up! Protect your brain
    Take precautions against head injuries. Use your car seat belts, unclutter your house to avoid falls, and wear a helmet when cycling or in-line skating.
  9. Use your head
    Avoid unhealthy habits. Don’t smoke, drink excessive alcohol or use street drugs.
  10. Think ahead — start today!
    You can do something today to protect your tomorrow.
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In September 2008, the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry published an interesting article: Smell test predicts performance on delayed recall memory test in elderly with depression. Who would’ve thought that a smell test might be a tool to forecast cognitive impairment. But it turns out that the elderly, particularly those diagnosed with depression, have an increased risk for cognitive dysfunction and dementia.

According to sensonics.com, Sensonics, Inc. tests can be used to detect smell loss but cannot be used alone to diagnose disease. Smell and taste monitor the intake into the body of all nutrients and airborne chemicals required for life.

Here is an abstract of the study that was done.

Purpose

To assess the validity of the CC-SIT (Cross-Cultural Smell Identification Test) as a screening test for cognitive impairment in elderly with depression.

Methods

Forty-one patients, aged 60 and over, were assessed with the CC-SIT and CVLT (California Verbal Learning Test) after three months of treatment of a Major Depressive Episode (DSM-IV) at the Day Hospital for Depression, Baycrest. Patients already diagnosed with dementia, or other psychiatric and neurological disorders, were excluded. Receiver Operating Characteristics (ROC) analysis was applied to assess the CC-SIT’s accuracy in identifying individuals with impairment (2 SD below the mean for age and education or less) on CVLT delayed recall trials.

Results

Forty-one patients (33 women and eight men) were assessed. Mean age was 76.8 (SD: 6.5), mean HRSD scores before treatment was 22.0 (SD: 5.1). Nine patients had impairment on CVLT delayed recall measures. The area under the ROC curve was 0.776 (95% CI = 0.617-0.936).

Conclusions

Our results support the use of the CC-SIT as a screening tool for cognitive impairment among elderly with depression as an indicator for the need of a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation. Replication with larger samples is necessary. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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