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AAIC 2017 reveals great strides in research

AAIC 2017 reveals great strides in research

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.

Nightmares or the Orange Pill

Nightmares or the Orange Pill

I’m tired this morning. The lingering affects of my nightmares stays with me.

One of the characteristics of Frontotemporal dementia is sleep disturbances. In addition to this I have been diagnosed with REM sleep behavioural disorder. This “… is a disorder in which you physically act out vivid, often unpleasant dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent arm and leg movements during REM sleep.”
Normally you don’t move during REM sleep. About 20 % of your sleep is spent in REM sleep, the usual time for dreaming, which occurs primarily during the second half of the night. (Mayo Clinic)

REM sleep behaviour disorder often may be associated with other neurological conditions such as Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease or multiple system atrophy.

I have had this disorder for about four years; that means prior to my diagnosis of Frontemporal dementia (FTD).
The other distinct characteristic of this is that you usually remember the nightmare(s) unlike many dreams.
Although I had a diagnosis, I choose not to take any suggested medications to help the symptoms. About a year ago, that changed as my nightmares were more frequent and frightening.

My doctor put me on 0.5MG of Clonazepam. Yes, medication from the “pam family.” Clonazepam often used to treat anxiety is also the traditional choice for treating REM sleep behaviour disorder.

However, in people with FTD, benzodiazepines have been associated with an increase in behavioural challenges and impair both memory and pschomotor skills. Use can result in reduced inhibition and impaired judgement. Simply put Clonazepam should be avoided.

I’m sure you can see the conundrum. To take or not to take. That is the question!

My daily medication is taken via a blister-pack. The clonazepam is not included in it. Every night as I take my blister-pack medication, I have to also open up the pill bottle for it.

Last night I choose not to take it. This is the second time this week. Why not? I keep hoping to take less medication. I keep thinking maybe I don’t need to take it anymore. But I’m promptly reminded why I do need to take it. Without it comes the nightmares. Terrible nightmares.

Although clonazepam is not suggested for people with dementia, I’ve made a choice to include the orange pill in my daily medication. Without it, the monsters come out and I can be heared yelling “Help me….”

Mary Beth Wighton is a blogger living with Frontotemporal dementia. If you want to subsribe to her blog or get in touch with her for any reason, send her an email (mbwighton@hotmail.ca).

fdd8c873df2214bMary Beth Wighton

Blogger and dementia advocate