Dr. Dana Wittenberg, R.Psych.

We have all read about how multiple head injuries, particularly those sustained by professional athletes, increase the risk of developing dementia later in life. A new study out of Minnesota found that older adults who had sustained a concussion at some point in their life had a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, those who went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease had more of the disease in their brains than those who did not have a history of concussion. 

Of course, having a history of concussion or head injury does not mean that you are going to automatically get dementia or Alzheimer’s disease when you age. It only means that your risk is higher. It also means that early detection and repeat evaluation is vital to determining changes in your memory and thinking abilities. Please contact me today at www.mybraintoday.com for more information on neuropsychological evaluation.

Nine risk factors have been identified by Swedish researchers that are tied to early onset dementia. Early onset dementia is characterized by onset of symptoms before age 65. The nine risk factors include: alcohol intoxication and abuse, stroke, use of antipsychotic drug, depression, drug abuse, a father with dementia, poor mental function as a teen, being short, and having high blood pressure. Taken together, these risk factors accounted for 68 percent of the cases of early onset dementia.

Many of these risk factors can show up as early as the teen years. The good news is that some of these early risk factors and behaviors can be prevented or treated, which would hopefully reduce their chance of future dementia. Alcohol abuse was found to be the most important risk factor while parent dementia was a very small risk factor.

Of course, the risk factors are not causative, so it is difficult to know if we prevent them whether the individual would still go on to develop early onset dementia. However, as the most important risk factors were behavioral not genetic, it couldn’t hurt to attempt to modify these factors in order to possibly reduce the chance of developing the disease.

A new drug being developed jointly by Lundbeck in Denmark and Otsuka in Japan released their Phase II results today. Their drug, Lu AE58054 (catchy, I know), showed significantly significant cognitive improvement for individuals with moderate Alzheimer’s disease when they took it with Aricept. Aricept is a commonly prescribed medication aimed at slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms, namely memory decline. 

The results are promising and a Phase III study with 3000 individuals will commence this fall.

With numerous drugs in development aimed at preventing, slowing, or stopping Alzheimer’s disease, it is hopeful that the disease will be manageable in the near future.

Generally speaking, people are living longer lives than they did decades ago. Many people fear aging because they think that their mental and physical capacity will decline significantly. 

A new study out of Denmark showed that 95-year-olds born in 1915 were more cognitively intact than 93-year-olds born in 1905. They studied over 4000 people in the community and found that those born a decade later performed better on basic cognitive tasks. They concluded that, “not only are more people living to a higher age, they are also doing so in better shape.” 

Imagine how well you will be doing in your 90’s now that we know brain fitness is so vital to longevity of cognitive skills. A good reminder to get out and learn something new today!

The best research we have to date regarding prevention of dementia or slowing of memory problems once dementia has already began was confirmed yet again. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL found that elderly individuals who participated in regular, frequent mental activity had a 32% lower rate of mental decline. Further, those with infrequent mental activity experienced a decline 48 percent faster than individuals who were more engaged. 

While individuals who participate in mentally stimulating activity do not express clinical signs of memory or mental decline, many will show signs of dementia on post-mortem autopsy. It may be confusing to think that a person could have dementia without displaying any symptoms, but it appears that those who more actively engage their brains are better able to compensate for any loss in brain volume. 

So the old adage holds true - use it or lose it!

A new type of brain scan that was developed at Massachusetts General Hospital is able to offer the most intricate view of the inner workings of the brain to date. It is able to map the brain and how it functions in a much more detailed fashion than has previously been possible. Scientists are hoping to use the new scan to investigate why some people are naturally artistic, while others are naturally scientific. Not only would it be possible to answer such questions, but researchers could use the scans to shed light on how the brain functions after being inflicted with different diseases. For example, they may be able to determine why some individuals with Alzheimer’s disease demonstrate greater language deficits earlier in the disease process than others or why some people progress faster than others. The possibilities are endless! (and the images are pretty cool, too)

As the American Thanksgiving holiday arrives, many sit down and reflect on what they have to be thankful for. Family and loved ones are most often at the top of people’s list of what they are grateful for during the holiday season. When a family member has Alzheimer’s disease, the holiday can be difficult since they may be disoriented, overwhelmed, or forget the identity of those around them. 

The “baby boomer” generation are commonly referred to as the “sandwich generation” because they must not only care for their children but also their parents who may be inflicted with Alzheimer’s. They are also getting to the age where they themselves may be experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, including memory lapses and word finding difficulties. It is expected that approximately 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer’s, and for those who live to 85, 1 in 2 will develop the disease. Some have began referring to the boomers as Generation Alzheimer’s as the disease is expected to have such a widespread impact. 

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and treatment does not stop the progression of the disease. Early detection can be helpful as lifestyle choices have been shown to slow the progression of disease. Neuropsychological evaluation has been shown to detect changes in thinking skills up to 8 years before diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and your brain health, please contact me at www.mybraintoday.com

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is still unknown. There are several theories about what happens in the brain to cause the disease process, but there has been no consensus yet. However, there are several genes that have been identified that appear to be involved in the development of the disease as those with the gene abnormality have increased risk to developing AD. 

Researchers have just discovered another gene that leads to a three-fold increase in the risk of developing AD. The gene is rare, occurring in less than one percent of the population. But, the more genes that are identified can lead to new discoveries as to the cause and possible cure for AD.

Alzheimer’s disease affects over 35 million people worldwide and its incidence is expected to double within a generation. For more information on AD and your brain health, please contact me at www.mybraintoday.com

Yet another study that shows the importance of exercise for the brain. Researchers from the University of Lisbon in Portugal found that elderly individuals with cardiovascular risks, such as history of stroke, who exercised for at least 30 minutes 3 times per week had significantly lowered risk of developing dementia after three years. In fact, exercise was significantly correlated with any cognitive impairment meaning that it helped maintain the thinking skills of both those who did and did not meet criteria for dementia. So, even if you do not have dementia, you can still benefit from improving your physical health. Get out there this weekend and get moving!

For more information on your brain health and the aging brain, please contact me at www.mybraintoday.com

Research consistently shows that diet can boost your brain health and help to prevent cognitive decline. That’s all well and good, but how can you translate the research into daily living? An e-cookbook put out by a group of researchers at Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences aims to help you cook your way to a healthier brain. The book is filled with recipes as well as information on your brain and why certain foods appear to help boost brain health. And, proceeds from the sale of the e-book will support Baycrest programs and services, so it all goes to a good cause!