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.

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

A multi-site study is about to commence headed by Washington University in St. Louis to investigate multiple drugs with the goal of preventing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Families with a strong genetic predisposition to AD are being studied at two stages of the disease process; prior to symptom onset and during the early, mild stage. The subjects will be followed past the time when their relatives generally start exhibiting symptoms in an effort to determine if any of the drugs will prevent or delay onset of AD.

The drugs being investigated are produced by Lilly and Roche. While none of the drugs have been able to demonstrate a significant effect on AD once someone has already started exhibiting symptoms, the hope is that the drugs will be able to prevent symptom onset or delay it for a number of years.

Alzheimer’s disease affects over 36 million people worldwide and this number is expected to double within the next generation. For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and your brain health, please contact me at www.mybraintoday.com

Alzheimer’s disease affects entire families, not just the individual diagnosed with the disease. Children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren’s lives change when their loved one suffers from the illness. How to explain the fact that grandma or great-grandpa doesn’t recognize a child can be tricky. There are books geared towards explaining Alzheimer’s disease to children that their parents can use to broach the topic and open the lines of communication. 

A team at Washington University examined all the available books and found that most were insufficient in discussing the types of issues those with Alzheimer’s disease face. However, the books should be used as a jumping off point for parents to explain the illness through story and pictures. Children are capable of understanding more than many give them credit for and are innately empathic towards others, especially those they love.

For more information on your brain health or Alzheimer’s disease, please contact me at www.mybraintoday.com

A Vancouver couple became the oldest individuals to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa at the age of 84 and 85. They set out to climb the 19,341 foot mountain as part of the Ascent for Alzheimer’s fundraiser that benefits the Alzheimer’s Society of BC. Their trek raised $24,000 for Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that affects 26 million people worldwide. Talk about inspirational!

For more information about dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and your brain health, please contact me at www.mybraintoday.com

Individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease often have difficulty sleeping and get more confused later in the day. This effect, called sundowning, can be very trying on a family especially after a long day of caring for their loved one. Due to the confusion, Alzheimer’s patients may be wide awake in the middle of the night trying to complete normal daytime tasks, such as preparing dinner. Their odd sleep, or lack thereof, often prevents the caretakers from getting much needed sleep as well.

There are many daytime “camps” where dementia patients can go to give their caretakers respite, but there is only one night camp. Located in the Bronx, NY, families can enrol their loved ones for the after-dark program so they can get much needed sleep and the patient can participate in activities over night. Of course, there is space for the patient to take a nap or get some rest, but most often, they choose to learn a new dance, paint pictures, or go on a walk through the halls of the facility. Then, they show up back home in the morning to a well-rested home ready to face a new day.