By Nalini Sen, Director, Alzheimer Society Research Program
I had the opportunity to attend this year’s annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in London, UK. This conference brings together some of the world’s leading researchers and clinicians in dementia treatment, detection and prevention. And with a record number of presentations—3300 in all—I have to admit, I was awestruck. Here are a few takeaways I would like to share with you:
Stress can age your brain
How we manage stress is even more important than was previously thought. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin studied 1320 people who had experienced stressful events like losing a job, getting a divorce or grieving the death of a family member. What did they find? A single stressful experience can age your brain by four years! Their findings reaffirm that healthy lifestyle habits matter.
Your brain needs a good night rest
Getting good sleep is as important as getting enough sleep. In a 516-person study, researchers from Wheaton College found greater instances of beta amyloid deposits in the brains of those with sleep disordered breathing and noticed that these deposits accumulated faster over time. Sleep disordered breathing is common. It includes hypopnea (under breathing) and apnea (not breathing) during sleep. While researchers need to do more investigative work, if we can better treat these sleep disorders, we may be able to reduce the risk of dementia or possibly delay the progression of the disease where it has already occurred.
Other presentations at AAIC reported on advancements in diagnosing dementia, which is a complicated and often a long process:
PET brain scans can improve diagnosis
For example, researchers from Sweden reported a 68 per cent increase in dementia diagnoses when PET brain scans were used in a small test sample of 135 people with memory problems. PET scans help identify whether amyloid plaques, the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, are present in the brain. It does this by injecting a special dye with radioactive tracers into the arm which is then and absorbed by the organs and tissues.
Steps closer to a dementia blood test
In another study, Washington University researchers were able to measure amyloid beta in the cerebrospinal fluid (a fluid in the brain) with 89 per cent accuracy. Amyloid beta and tau protein which accumulate in the brain are triggers for Alzheimer’s disease. While more study is needed, a blood test for dementia may soon become available. This kind of test could identify those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease even years before symptoms appear.
One thing was clear at this year’s AAIC conference: Researchers around the world are working diligently to find a cure and identify new ways of diagnosing dementia earlier. And while they continue their search, there is now even more evidence that we can take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia by living a healthier lifestyle.
Learn more about what you can do to keep your brain healthy at alzheimer.ca/brainhealth.
When you’ve seen the effects of dementia before, noticing even minor changes in your cognitive abilities can be alarming. Both Yvon and Susanne lost their mothers to Alzheimer’s, so they’re no strangers to the disease.
When Susanne began to show small signs of forgetfulness a few months ago, they immediately went to their doctor. After a series of tests, Susanne was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which can be—although not always—a precursor to dementia. Susanne was given appropriate medication and is showing signs of improvement. MCI is “just barely on the scale” of neurological impairment, but because of their shared family histories of Alzheimer’s, the couple is not taking any chances.
Yvon has made changes in his life now that he’s supporting a partner with MCI. He’s learning different ways of saying and doing things, taking on new tasks, and researching as much as he can about cognitive impairments and dementias. He’s reading about the importance of nutrition, exercise and mental activities. He’s also grateful for the support of friends and neighbours.
And MCI is not their only health concern. Susanne also lives with lupus and Yvon has diabetes and glaucoma in his right eye. To help manage these multiple health concerns, Yvon and Susanne are looking for new supported living arrangements to relieve some of the stress of handling everything on their own.
They’re hopeful. Being proactive about the disease gives Yvon a sense of clarity and calmness. He encourages Susanne in the kinds of activities that keep her engaged and active – doing household finances and crosswords, knitting and reading. They’re learning everything they can about the disease and have joined a support group, one of many programs available at the Alzheimer Society of Cornwall.
“The more education people have, the better prepared they can be about what’s ahead,” says Yvon. That’s why supporting the Alzheimer Society’s work in raising awareness and funding research is so critical for couples like Yvon and Susanne. Making a donation helps. Because it’s not just their disease. It’s ours too. #InItforAlz
« On ne peut pas se sauver de la réalité » : Un couple fait face à la possibilité de se voir confronter à la maladie d’Alzheimer
Même des changements mineurs dans nos capacités cognitives peuvent nous inquiéter quand on connaît les conséquences de la maladie d’Alzheimer. Cette maladie a emporté la mère de Suzanne et celle d’Yvon. Tous deux savent très bien de quoi il en retourne.
Il y a quelques mois, Suzanne a commencé à montrer des signes de perte de mémoire. Tout de suite, elle a consulté son médecin. Après une série de tests, un diagnostic de déficit cognitif léger lui a été confirmé. Même si cela n’est pas toujours le cas, ce diagnostic pourrait être un signe avant-coureur de maladie cognitive. Suzanne prend les médicaments recommandés pas son médecin et montre maintenant des signes d’amélioration. Le déficit cognitif léger est un trouble neurologique mineur, mais, en raison de ses antécédents familiaux, Suzanne ne veut courir aucun risque.
Yvon a modifié un peu son style de vie depuis qu’il prête assistance à sa conjointe. Il apprend de nouvelles façons de dire et de faire les choses, prend en charge de nouvelles tâches, et s’informe du mieux qu’il le peut sur les questions entourant les déficiences et maladies cognitives. Ses lectures lui ont fait prendre conscience de l’importance de la nutrition, de l’exercice et des activités mentales. Ses amis et ses voisins le soutiennent et il en est très reconnaissant.
Mais ce n’est pas tout. Suzanne est également atteinte du lupus et Yvon a le diabète, en plus d’un glaucome à l’œil droit. Pour ne plus être livrés à eux-mêmes dans leur combat contre la maladie et pour évacuer un peu de stress, Yvon et Suzanne tentent actuellement de trouver des services d’aide à la vie autonome.
Par-dessus tout, ils gardent l’espoir. Grâce à son attitude proactive face à la maladie, Yvon éprouve un sentiment de clarté et de calme. Il encourage Suzanne à rester active en participant aux finances du ménage et en faisant des mots croisés, du tricot et de la lecture. Ils apprennent tout ce qu’ils peuvent sur la maladie et font maintenant partie d’un groupe de soutien, qui est l’un des nombreux services offerts par la Société Alzheimer de Cornwall.
« Plus on s’informe, mieux on se prépare pour l’avenir », déclare Yvon. C’est pourquoi il est si important de soutenir les initiatives de sensibilisation du public et de financement de la recherche de la Société Alzheimer. Votre contribution est importante parce que les maladies cognitives ne concernent pas seulement les personnes atteintes. Elles nous concernent tous. #TousContreAlzheimer.
Could living in a major city increase your risk of dementia? A new study suggests that may be the case.
After studying over two million Ontarians over an 11-year period, researchers found that the closer they lived to a major roadway, the more likely they were to develop dementia. Those who had lived in urban areas for a long time were even more likely to develop the condition than those who had moved more recently.
These findings suggest one culprit in particular: air pollution. Of course, the study didn’t prove that air pollution causes dementia – only that there is some sort of relationship. But this isn’t the first major study to find an association between air pollution and a decline in brain function in middle-aged and older adults.
So does this mean that we should all flock to the country? Not so fast.
The increased risk shown in the study is only slightly higher, and while these results might help us understand a bit more about what causes dementia in certain circumstances, more research needs to be done.
The “brew” of different toxins that make up air pollution make it difficult to attribute the effect to one specific factor, and there are other factors besides air pollution that may come into play.
Yet, air pollution is an area worthy of more study because it has other indirect but very important effects on the brain. Air pollution may contribute to conditions like pulmonary disease, heart disease and stroke, which we know can increase a person’s chances of developing dementia. Cardiovascular disease, in particular, can lead to vascular dementia.
While the findings of this new study are preliminary, they do have important implications for public health. We need to do more to control and reduce air pollution and protect our most vulnerable citizens.
And while we still don’t fully understand the causes of dementia, there are things we can do right now to reduce our risk. More physical activity, eating a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, challenging our brains and staying socially connected are all essential for brain health.
Dr. Marco Prado’s research aims to address the mechanisms by which deficient cholinergic circuits contribute to dementia. He is an Alzheimer Society Research Program Biomedical Research Grant recipient and a professor at the University of Western Ontario.
Let’s make sure that aging does not mean losing one’s identity.
-Dr. Marco Prado
Dr. Marco Prado
Biomedical Grant Recipient in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – $149,128
Project: Mechanisms of anti-cholinergic activity mediated dementia and Alzheimer’s pathology
Read about more of our grants and awards recipients here.
With the warmer temperatures, extra hours of sunlight, and an increase in vitamin D, summer is a great time to get outside, get active and take part in the new Alzheimer Society of Ontario’s #summerchallenge! While you’re out there getting your body moving, don’t forget to give your brain a workout too!
Research shows that keeping your brain active can help to reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. Exercising your brain is simple, free, and gives you incredible benefits. Let’s take a look at three great ways to flex your brain cells!
- Neurobic exercises
Neurobics is the science of brain exercise, with the aim of helping you to hold on to memories while also being able to absorb new information. To get the most out of neurobics:
- Stimulate your senses in a new way
- Utilize your emotions and engage with other people
- Find a way to break your usual routine
Try brushing your teeth with your opposite hand. Put some coins in your pocket, and try to determine the denominations just by feeling them. Go inside and pay the gas station attendant instead of paying at the pump. Practices like these will encourage your brain to make new connections.
2. Read out loud
While reading is itself a fabulous activity that exercises your brain on different levels, reading out loud kicks the cerebral workout up a notch.
Reading utilizes visual pathways to make memory links but reading out loud creates a layer of auditory pathways, which helps us to remember things better. In addition to pathway creation, reading aloud sharpens focus, increases your vocabulary, and leads to greater comprehension – all of which help to strengthen your brain.
3. Practice mindfulness
One of the best things you can do for cerebral health is to stop thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. The practice of mindfulness is one that exercises our brains in a way we don’t do enough of – by shutting out all external stimuli and being present in the here and now.
Mindfulness meditation is a great way to enjoy the current moment. Find somewhere comfortable to sit upright, ensure there is no noise or other distractions in your space, and simply start focusing on your breath. Take deep breaths in and out, feeling how the air flows through your body. The stillness may feel uncomfortable at first, but try to engage in the exercise for at least a minute.
Mindfulness improves your effectiveness, reduces cortisol levels, and helps with a number of other physical and mental health markers. Mindfulness also helps us to be grateful in the moment, and that positivity leads to an increased benefit to our health and how we look at life.
So, there you have it. Three excellent ways to challenge your brain, learn more about yourself, and get some great benefits out of it all. Neurobics, reading out loud, and mindfulness – which one will you try today? Tweet us, comment on Facebook, or share your thoughts below, and enjoy the #summerchallenge!
Feeling lucky? Enter the Summer Challenge contest on EverythingZoomer.com!
The Alzheimer Society of Ontario wants to help you reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia with the #SummerChallenge. This summer we have come up with four simple steps that can help you to keep your brain active and healthy!
Challenge yourself to bring your lunch to work each day, saving you from the unhealthy, but tempting, restaurants near the office! Lucky for you, fruits and vegetables are in season and delicious this time of year! Pick up some healthy greens at your local grocery store and bring some fresh salads and fresh fruit snacks.
Maybe that New Year’s resolution to go to the gym hasn’t quite panned out, but there is no better time than the summer to get outdoors and be active! Explore some of the beautiful Ontario parks and trails, and enjoy the scenery while exercising your body and mind!
Take advantage of the beautiful weather to meet up with friends and family, be it a family picnic or a bar-b-que with neighbors. If you’re enjoying a vacation away from home, write postcards to your friends telling them about the exciting and wonderful things you’ve done on your trip!
Exercise Your Brain:
Have a long list of books you’d like to read? Then jog your brain with some summer reading! Looking for a new activity for the summer? Sign up for an online course or join a cooking class with friends!
It’s never too early or too late to start being brain healthy! So take the #SummerChallenge and help reduce your risk of dementia!
What will your Summer Challenge be?
This is a difficult question because while it is known that Alzheimer’s disease is highly inheritable, meaning that it can cluster in families, there are only a few gene abnormalities that definitively cause the disease (i.e., if you inherit it, it will be almost certain that you will get the disease). These are mutations in genes called Amyloid Precursor Protein, Presenilin 1 and Presenilin 2, with Presenilin 1 mutations being the most frequent.
While these are important genes implicated in cause of Alzheimer’s disease, they are exceedingly rare in the general population, often affect individuals under the age of 50, and are not likely to be implicated in the majority of cases of Alzheimer’s disease (generally < 0.5% of all cases). Alternatively, there is one common genetic variant known as the Apoliprotein E4 variant that increases the risk of developing AD, but does not guarantee that someone who inherits it will get the disease. This is usually associated with late onset forms of the AD.
I would recommend the following:
- If you have symptoms of AD such as memory problems, then you should be assessed by a physician.
- If you have a strong family history of AD where multiple siblings, at least one parent and the aunts and uncles of the affected parent developed symptoms of AD before the age of 65, then you might consider seeing a clinical geneticist to learn about risks of developing disease and to weigh the benefits and risks of being assessed for familial mutations that cause the disease.
Learn more about how the Alzheimer Society supports research.
Associate Scientist, Sunnybrook Hospital
Alzheimer Society Research Program Grant recipient
I was in my late teens when I decided to move in with my grandparents. I thought it would be something new and they were aspiring vegans with a great vegetable garden. They lived in a retirement community and, being the youngest person to take residence there, I caused quite a stir. Nevertheless, I took over their spare room and immersed myself in the life of a retiree.
They started every day with a smoothie, full of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, while they read the paper, completed the sudoku and crossword, then called me in to read my horoscope.
My grandmother spent her days gardening, chatting and reading romance novels; my grandfather golfed all the time, mowed lawns and played cards with my uncles.
I enjoyed the two years I spent with them. They are young at heart and I loved hearing their perspective on life, soaking up whatever lessons they were willing to teach me.
One of the most important things I learned during my time there was about brain health. Brain exercises were a ritual revered by my grandparents.
It’s because Alzheimer’s disease runs rampant in my family. My grandparents have seen their parents, siblings, and friends lost in that slow decline of memory loss and confusion. They have witnessed firsthand the effects this illness has on a family and they did everything possible to stop it.
It’s a lesson I have kept with me, even after I moved out. I know that it’s never too early to focus on brain health and reduce my risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. I value that foresight because many of my friends don’t realize the long term health effects of their actions today.
I use my free time to train my brain, learning languages and playing puzzle games. I use apps like Elevate to track my progress and hone my skills. And weekends, I love to go hiking and have coffee with friends. I remember that, even though it may seem far away now, life will move quickly and I don’t want to be in a position later on that will be harder to correct.
Today, my grandparents still complete the same morning routine, but now the paper has been traded for a tablet and they’re a little less vegan than before. However, they still take those simple steps to stay the healthiest they can be, and hopefully, they will one day teach my children the same lessons they taught me.
Learn more about how you can keep your brain healthy.
Humber College PR student