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Simple Steps to Keep Your Brain Sharp As You Age

By Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports: Simple steps can help keep your brain sharp even as you ageYou go into the kitchen to get something, only to forget what it was once you get there. You misplace your reading glasses, can’t find your car in a parking lot or draw a blank when trying to remember a friend’s name. It’s normal to have occasional episodes of minor forgetfulness. But “some types of memory loss are more substantial than others as we age,” says Arthur Kramer, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “One aspect of memory relates different pieces of information and puts them all together, and that’s the type that isn’t quite what it used to be.” But the brain is surprisingly adept at compensating for aging, and other types of memory can improve or remain intact over time. Even more encouraging is that a set of relatively simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes can go a long way toward maintaining a vigorous mind.

Take a Walk

In late adulthood, the hippocampus, which is the brain region responsible for forming some types of memories, shrinks 1 to 2 percent annually, leading to memory problems and an increased risk for dementia. But regular aerobic exercise encourages the growth of new brain cells there, even if the workouts aren’t strenuous. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or biking.

Lead an Active Social Life

Social butterflies are more likely to retain their brain vitality. A 2011 study in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society followed 1,138 older people who were initially free of dementia. Researchers assessed their cognitive function and social interaction every year, recording how often they went to restaurants and sporting events, played bingo, did volunteer work, took short trips, visited relatives or friends, participated in social groups and attended religious services. Over an average of five years, the rate of decline on a broad range of cognitive abilities, including several types of memory, was 70 percent lower in the most socially active people compared with the least socially active.

Play Mind Games

Activities that challenge the mind can help keep it sharp by stimulating brain cells and the connections between them. Studies indicate that participation in a variety of activities — such as joining a book club, seeing a play, listening to presidential debates, attending lectures and playing board or card games — helps preserve acumen. Any engaging pastime counts, including needlepoint, gardening, playing the piano, studying a language, bird-watching or memorizing dance steps — and the more, the better.

Eat Food for Thought

Regular consumption of fish, fruit and vegetables might protect mental agility. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh tracked the diets and, using MRIs, the brain volume of 260 older people with normal cognitive function in a study presented at the Radiological Society of North America last November. After 10 years, those who ate baked or broiled fish at least once a week had larger and healthier cells in brain areas responsible for memory and learning than did those who ate fish less often.

Control Blood Pressure

Chronic diseases that damage the arteries, thereby disrupting blood flow to the brain, might also injure the mind. That’s another reason to treat high cholesterol, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes and to lose weight, if needed.

Get Some Sleep

We need sleep to create memories, think clearly and react quickly; insufficient shut-eye hampers our ability to remember and reason. To combat sleeplessness, keep your bedroom cool and dark, avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking, don’t exercise in the evening and turn off the television and all technology a few hours before you go to bed.

Reduce Stress

Stress prompts the release of hormones that can weaken memory and even damage brain cells. Just 12 minutes of daily yoga for two months improved cognition among people with memory disorders in a 2010 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Other stress relievers include aerobic exercise, listening to mellow music, meditating or praying, and writing in a journal.

Stop Smoking

Smoking increases the odds of memory loss in later life, but quitting at any age can halt the decline, evidence suggests. In an April 2011 study in the journal NeuroImage, researchers recruited older adults who were smokers and people who had never smoked, and invited the smokers to join a 12-week cessation program. Two years later, the rate of cognitive decline for successful quitters was similar to that of participants who never smoked, but those who were unable to quit declined more than those in either group.

Limit Alcohol

One drink a day for women and two for men is associated with reductions in cognitive decline and the risk of dementia. But heavy drinking can diminish memory by changing chemicals in the brain and causing deficiencies in Vitamin B1 (thiamin). And several studies report greater brain shrinkage among alcoholics.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/consumer-reports-simple-steps-can-help-keep-your-brain-sharp-even-as-you-age/2012/04/23/gIQAxm5mcT_story.html

 

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in General

 

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How Books, Puzzles Might Help Ward Off Alzheimer’s

Via Scoop.itHealthcare Continuing Education

Doing puzzles and reading books have been linked with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a new study may explain why — it reduces the accumulation of harmful proteins in the brain.
Via www.myhealthnewsdaily.com

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in General

 

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A Squirt of Insulin May Delay Alzheimer’s

Via Scoop.itHealthcare Continuing Education

A small pilot study has found preliminary evidence that squirting insulin deep into the nose where it travels to the brain might hold early Alzheimer’s disease at bay…
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in General

 

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Helping the Helpers of Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 5.3 million people in the U.S. who have Alzheimer’s and nearly 11 million unpaid caregivers involved in their daily care. It is the 7th leading cause of death, and it costs us around 172 billion dollars each year. While there are a number of causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common type, accounting for 60-80% of cases. In advanced Alzheimer’s, people need help with bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, eating, and other daily activities. Those in the final stages of the disease lose their ability to communicate, fail to recognize loved ones, and become bed-bound and are reliant on 24/7 care. Their needs can become an almost unbearable burden for their caregivers.

alzheimer's continuing education“This is where family members and other unpaid caregivers begin to come to the attention of health and mental health professionals,” says Leo Christie, PhD, CEO of Professional Development Resources. “While most caregivers are proud of the help they provide, many of them also experience very high levels of stress and depression associated with their caregiving roles. One study showed that family members who provided care to a person with dementia spent at least 46 hours per week assisting the person in the last year before the person’s death. The majority felt they were on duty 24 hours a day. Our goal is to provide continuing education (CE) courses that give professionals the tools they need to help the helpers.”

Negative health effects can run the gamut from stress to heart disease. Research has indicated that caregivers – many of whom are elderly themselves – may show high levels of stress hormones, reduced immune function, new hypertension, and new coronary heart disease. In one study, 24% of spouse caregivers had at least one ER visit or hospitalization in the previous six months. Mental health effects include severe stress and depression. There are also social and economic impacts, such as isolation and reduced employment.

“Our main task is to convince caregivers that it’s OK to ask for help and take time for themselves,” adds Christie. “They feel that they should be able to do everything themselves, that it’s not all right to leave the person with someone else, that no one will help even if they ask, or that they don’t have the money to pay someone to watch the person for an hour or two. It all adds up to burnout.”

Among the Alzheimer’s courses offered by Professional Development Resources are:

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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in General

 

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Early Alzheimer’s Intervention (Video)

Go inside the life of a woman recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer's Video

Click to watch video on abc.com

 

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in General

 

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Alzheimer’s Diagnostic Guidelines Updated

e-Update from the Alzheimer’s Disease Education & Referral Center

Alzheimer’s Diagnostic Guidelines Updated for First Time in Decades

NIH-supported revision also proposes staging of disease, potential use of biomarkers

Alzheimer's Disease

Clinical diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease dementia have been revised for the first time in 27 years

For the first time in 27 years, clinical diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease dementia have been revised, and research guidelines for earlier stages of the disease have been characterized to reflect a deeper understanding of the disorder. The National Institute on Aging/Alzheimer’s Association Diagnostic Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Disease outline some new approaches for clinicians and provide scientists with more advanced guidelines for moving forward with research on diagnosis and treatments. They mark a major change in how experts think about and study Alzheimer’s disease. Development of the new guidelines was led by the National Institutes of Health and the Alzheimer’s Association.

The original criteria were the first to address the disease and described only later stages, when symptoms of dementia are already evident. The updated guidelines announced today cover the full spectrum of the disease as it gradually changes over many years. They describe the earliest preclinical stages of the disease, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia due to Alzheimer’s pathology. Importantly, the guidelines now address the use of imaging and biomarkers in blood and spinal fluid that may help determine whether changes in the brain and those in body fluids are due to Alzheimer’s disease. Biomarkers are increasingly employed in the research setting to detect onset of the disease and to track progression, but cannot yet be used routinely in clinical diagnosis without further testing and validation.

“Alzheimer’s research has greatly evolved over the past quarter of a century. Bringing the diagnostic guidelines up to speed with those advances is both a necessary and rewarding effort that will benefit patients and accelerate the pace of research,” said National Institute on Aging Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D.

“We believe that the publication of these articles is a major milestone for the field,” said William Thies, Ph.D., chief medical and scientific officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. “Our vision is that this process will result in improved diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s, and will drive research that ultimately will enable us to detect and treat the disease earlier and more effectively. This would allow more people to live full, rich lives without—or with a minimum of—Alzheimer’s symptoms.”

The new guidelines appear online April 19, 2011 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. They were developed by expert panels convened last year by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the NIH, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Preliminary recommendations were announced at the Association’s International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in July 2010, followed by a comment period.

Guy M. McKhann, M.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and David S. Knopman, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., co-chaired the panel that revised the 1984 clinical Alzheimer’s dementia criteria. Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, headed the panel refining the MCI criteria. Reisa A. Sperling, M.D., Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, led the panel tasked with defining the preclinical stage. The journal also includes a paper by Clifford Jack, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., as senior author, on the need for and concept behind the new guidelines.

The original 1984 clinical criteria for Alzheimer’s disease, reflecting the limited knowledge of the day, defined Alzheimer’s as having a single stage, dementia, and based diagnosis solely on clinical symptoms. It assumed that people free of dementia symptoms were disease-free. Diagnosis was confirmed only at autopsy, when the hallmarks of the disease, abnormal amounts of amyloid proteins forming plaques and tau proteins forming tangles, were found in the brain.

Since then, research has determined that Alzheimer’s may cause changes in the brain a decade or more before symptoms appear and that symptoms do not always directly relate to abnormal changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s. For example, some older people are found to have abnormal levels of amyloid plaques in the brain at autopsy yet never showed signs of dementia during life. It also appears that amyloid deposits begin early in the disease process but that tangle formation and loss of neurons occur later and may accelerate just before clinical symptoms appear.

To reflect what has been learned, the National Institute on Aging/Alzheimer’s Association Diagnostic Guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease cover three distinct stages of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Preclinical – The preclinical stage, for which the guidelines only apply in a research setting, describes a phase in which brain changes, including amyloid buildup and other early nerve cell changes, may already be in process. At this point, significant clinical symptoms are not yet evident. In some people, amyloid buildup can be detected with positron emission tomography (PET) scans and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, but it is unknown what the risk for progression to Alzheimer’s dementia is for these individuals. However, use of these imaging and biomarker tests at this stage are recommended only for research. These biomarkers are still being developed and standardized and are not ready for use by clinicians in general practice.
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – The guidelines for the MCI stage are also largely for research, although they clarify existing guidelines for MCI for use in a clinical setting. The MCI stage is marked by symptoms of memory problems, enough to be noticed and measured, but not compromising a person’s independence. People with MCI may or may not progress to Alzheimer’s dementia. Researchers will particularly focus on standardizing biomarkers for amyloid and for other possible signs of injury to the brain. Currently, biomarkers include elevated levels of tau or decreased levels of beta-amyloid in the CSF, reduced glucose uptake in the brain as determined by PET, and atrophy of certain areas of the brain as seen with structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests will be used primarily by researchers, but may be applied in specialized clinical settings to supplement standard clinical tests to help determine possible causes of MCI symptoms.
  • Alzheimer’s Dementia – These criteria apply to the final stage of the disease, and are most relevant for doctors and patients. They outline ways clinicians should approach evaluating causes and progression of cognitive decline. The guidelines also expand the concept of Alzheimer’s dementia beyond memory loss as its most central characteristic. A decline in other aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment may be the first symptom to be noticed. At this stage, biomarker test results may be used in some cases to increase or decrease the level of certainty about a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia and to distinguish Alzheimer’s dementia from other dementias, even as the validity of such tests is still under study for application and value in everyday clinical practice.

The panels purposefully left the guidelines flexible to allow for changes that could come from emerging technologies and advances in understanding of biomarkers and the disease process itself.

“The guidelines discuss biomarkers currently known, and mention others that may have future applications,” said Creighton H. Phelps, Ph.D., of the NIA Alzheimer’s Disease Centers Program. “With researchers worldwide striving to develop, validate and standardize the application of biomarkers at every stage of Alzheimer’s disease, we devised a framework flexible enough to incorporate new findings.”

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The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Their mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. For more information on the Association, visit www.alz.org. For more information on the new diagnostic criteria and links to the papers referenced below, visit www.alz.org/research/diagnostic_criteria. Media contact is Niles Frantz at 312-335-5777 or niles.frantz@alz.org.

The National Institute on Aging leads the federal government effort conducting and supporting research on aging and the health and well being of older people. The NIA provides information on age-related cognitive change and neurodegenerative disease specifically at its Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center at www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers For more on health and on aging generally, go to www.nia.nih.gov. To sign up for e-mail alerts about new findings or publications, please visit either website.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

References:

  • Clifford R. Jack Jr., et al. “Introduction to Revised Criteria for the Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease: National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association Workgroups.”
  • Guy M. McKhann and David S. Knopman, et al. “The Diagnosis of Dementia due to Alzheimer’s Disease: Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association Workgroup.”
  • Marilyn S. Albert, et al. “The Diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment due to Alzheimer’s Disease: Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging and Alzheimer’s Association Workgroup.”
  • Reisa A. Sperling, et al. “Toward Defining the Preclinical Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease: Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association Workgroup.”
 
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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in General

 

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