Tag Archives: Brain Health

Brain Research: 40% Of Dementia Cases Prevented With Lifestyle Changes

Dementia Risk Reduced by Lifestyle factors - USC Keck Medicine Infographic

“We are learning that tactics to avoid dementia begin early and continue throughout life, so it’s never too early or too late to take action,” says commission member and AAIC presenter Lon Schneider, MD, co-director of the USC Alzheimer Disease Research Center‘s clinical core and professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences and neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

LOS ANGELES — Modifying 12 risk factors over a lifetime could delay or prevent 40% of dementia cases, according to an updated report by the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2020).

Twenty-eight world-leading dementia experts added three new risk factors in the new report — excessive alcohol intake and head injury in mid-life and air pollution in later life. These are in addition to nine factors previously identified by the commission in 2017: less education early in life; mid-life hearing loss, hypertension and obesity; and smoking, depression, social isolation, physical inactivity and diabetes later in life (65 and up).

Schneider and commission members recommend that policymakers and individuals adopt the following interventions:

  • Aim to maintain systolic blood pressure of 130 mm Hg or less from the age of 40.
  • Encourage use of hearing aids for hearing loss and reduce hearing loss by protecting ears from high noise levels.
  • Reduce exposure to air pollution and second-hand tobacco smoke.
  • Prevent head injury (particularly by targeting high-risk occupations).
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than 21 units per week (one unit of alcohol equals 10 ml or 8 g pure alcohol).
  • Stop smoking and support others to stop smoking.
  • Provide all children with primary and secondary education.
  • Lead an active life into mid-life and possibly later life.
  • Reduce obesity and the linked condition of diabetes.

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Cognition & Brain Studies: Apathy, Not Depression, Associated With Dementia

‘Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry” (July 10, 2020):

jnnp-2020-July-91-7-677-F1.mediumWe tested the hypothesis that apathy, but not depression, is associated with dementia in patients with SVD. We found that higher baseline apathy, as well as increasing apathy over time, were associated with an increased dementia risk. In contrast, neither baseline depression or change in depression was associated with dementia. The relationship between apathy and dementia remained after controlling for other well-established risk factors including age, education and cognition. Finally, adding apathy to models predicting dementia improved model fit. These results suggest that apathy may be a prodromal symptom of dementia in patients with SVD.

Cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) is the leading vascular cause of dementia and plays a major role in cognitive decline and mortality.1 2 SVD affects the small vessels of the brain, leading to damage in the subcortical grey and white matter.1 The resulting clinical presentation includes cognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms.1

Apathy is a reduction in goal-directed behaviour, which is a common neuropsychiatric symptom in SVD.3 Importantly, apathy is dissociable from depression,3 4 another symptom in SVD for which low mood is a predominant manifestation.5 Although there is some symptomatic overlap between the two,6 research using diffusion imaging reported that apathy, but not depression, was associated with white matter network damage in SVD.3 Many of the white matter pathways underlying apathy overlap with those related to cognitive impairment, and accordingly apathy, rather than depression, has been associated with cognitive deficits in SVD.7 These results suggest that apathy and cognitive impairment are symptomatic of prodromal dementia in SVD.

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Brain Health Studies: Blueberries, Flavonoid-Rich Foods Lower Risks Of Alzheimer’s And Dementia

From the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 22, 2020):

FlavonoidsOur findings imply that higher long-term dietary intakes of flavonoids are associated with lower risks of ADRD and AD in US adults.

Our findings provide new evidence that diets higher in flavonols, anthocyanins, and flavonoid polymers are associated with a lower risk of developing ADRD. These associations were sustained after accounting for a variety of potential confounders including key nutrients related to ADRD risk and overall diet quality. Similar findings were seen with AD risk for flavonols and anthocyanins but the association with flavonoid polymers was no longer statistically significant.

Along with improvements in healthcare and medical technology, the aging of the baby boom generation will result in an unprecedented rise in the number of older Americans (12). Currently, there are >50 million Americans aged ≥65 y, and that is projected to more than double by 2060 (3). A consequence of this increase in older adults is the escalation of age-related diseases (45). Alzheimer disease (AD) and related dementias (ADRD), a group of symptoms in which there is progressive deterioration in cognitive function severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily living activities, are regarded as among the most significant public health challenges largely affecting adults aged >65 y (6). AD is the most common form of dementia, making up ∼60–80% of dementia cases. Currently, 5.8 million Americans are living with AD, and by 2050 that is projected to escalate to 14 million (7).

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New Books: “Brain Fables – The Hidden History of Neurodegenerative Diseases” (Cambridge, 2020)

An estimated 80 million people live with a neurodegenerative disease, with this number expected to double by 2050. Despite decades of research and billions in funding, there are no medications that can slow, much less stop, the progress of these diseases. The time to rethink degenerative brain disorders has come. With no biological boundaries between neurodegenerative diseases, illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s result from a large spectrum of biological abnormalities, hampering effective treatment.

Acclaimed neurologist Dr Alberto Espay and Parkinson’s advocate Benjamin Stecher present compelling evidence that these diseases should be targeted according to genetic and molecular signatures rather than clinical diagnoses. There is no Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, simply people with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. An incredibly important story never before told, Brain Fables is a wakeup call to the scientific community and society, explaining why we have no effective disease-modifying treatments, and how we can get back on track.

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Studies: Elderly In 3rd Highest Level Of Exercise Reduce Brain Shrinkage, Aging By 4 Years (AAN)

From a March 5, 2020 American Academy of Neurology release:

American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Logo“These results are exciting, as they suggest that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of aging on the brain simply by becoming more active,” said study author Yian Gu, Ph.D., of Columbia University in New York and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Recent studies have shown that as people age, physical activity may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Our study used brain scans to measure the brain volumes of a diverse group of people and found that those who engaged in the top third highest level of physical activity had a brain volume the equivalent of four years younger in brain aging than people who were at the bottom third activity level.”

Older people who regularly walk, garden, swim or dance may have bigger brains than their inactive peers, according to a preliminary study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 72nd Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada, April 25 to May 1, 2020. The effect of exercise was equal to four fewer years of brain aging. The study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to measure the brains of people with a range of activity levels, including those who were inactive to those who were very active. The scans showed less active people had smaller brain volume.

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Intense (VO2peak) Aerobic Exercise Raises Cognition, Alzheimer’s Disease Risks Lowered In Older Adults

From the Brain Plasticity Journal (Dec 26, 2019):

Brain Plasticity Journal 2020In conclusion, increased CRF (cardiorespiratory fitness) following this six-month intervention was associated with enhanced brain glucose metabolism in the PCC (posterior cingulate cortex), a region linked to AD, and cognition among late-middle-aged individuals at risk for AD. If these findings are supported by a larger-scale study, this would provide strong evidence that adults at risk for AD may enhance brain function and cognition by engaging in aerobic exercise training.

PCC glucose metabolism correlated positively with change in VO2peak (the highest value of VO2 attained upon an incremental or other high-intensity exercise test, designed to bring the sub- ject to the limit of tolerance)…Improvement in executive function correlated with increased VO2peak. Favorable CRF adaptation after 26 weeks of aerobic exercise training was associated with improvements in PCC glucose metabolism and executive function, important markers of AD.

Aerobic exercise has been associated with reduced burden of brain and cognitive changes related to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, it is unknown whether exercise training in asymptomatic individuals harboring risk for AD improves outcomes associated with AD. We investigated the effect of 26 weeks of supervised aerobic treadmill exercise training on brain glucose metabolism and cognition among 23 late-middle-aged adults from a cohort enriched with familial and genetic risk of AD.

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New Books On Ageing: “The Changing Mind” By Daniel Levitin (February 2020)

The Changing Mind A Neuroscientist's Guide To Ageing Well Daniel Levitin Feb 2020Challenging widely held assumptions about the diminishing abilities of an ageing brain, leading neuroscientist Daniel Levitin argues that we should view getting older as a beneficial experience rather than a form of cognitive entropy. Persuasively argued and consistently surprising, The Changing Mind will alter your perception of the relationship between age and intellect.

We have long been encouraged to think of old age as synonymous with deterioration. Yet, recent studies show that our decision-making skills improve as we age and our happiness levels peak in our eighties. What really happens to our brains as we get older?

More of us are living into our eighties than ever before. In The Changing Mind, neuroscientist, psychologist and internationally-bestselling author Daniel Levitin invites us to dramatically shift our understanding of growing older, demonstrating its many cognitive benefits. He draws on cutting-edge research to challenge common and flawed beliefs, including assumptions around memory loss and the focus on lifespan instead of ‘healthspan’.

Levitin reveals the evolving power of the human brain from infancy to late adulthood. Distilling the findings from over 4000 papers, he explains the importance of personality traits, lifestyle, memory and community on ageing, offering actionable tips that we can all start now, at any age.

Featuring compelling insights from individuals who have thrived far beyond the conventional age of retirement, this book offers realistic guidelines and practical cognition-enhancing tricks for everyone to follow during every decade of their life. This is a radical exploration of what we all can learn from those who age joyously.

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Excerpts: Chip Walter On The “Search For The Aging Cure” (“Immortality, Inc.”)

From a LitHub online article by Chip Walter, 69:

Immortality Inc Chip Walter bookAnd what if older neurons were replaced wholesale with new stem cells? They might scramble different sectors of the brain by destroying the new connections between the originals. Fiddle with those, and who knew what mayhem might follow? Memories, learning, and other cerebral functions that the brain had grown accustomed to might simply vanish. On the other hand, in the case of a disease like Alzheimer’s, maybe new memories would be better than no memories at all.

Robert Hariri’s views on human health began to take an unusual turn a little more than 25 years ago, when he was working as a neurosurgeon and trauma doctor at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. Day after day, he watched patients come into the emergency room with severe brain injuries, and it was a painful thing to witness.

He never forgot the case of a woman who had arrived after a senseless automobile accident. She was young, and the injury was bad. Every time he spoke with the family, the big questions they asked were: “How will she be? Will she come back? Could she be a mother to her children again?” It broke his heart.

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William J. (Chip) Walter Jr. (born May 23, 1951) is an author, journalist, National Geographic Fellow, educator, filmmaker and former CNN bureau chief. He has written five mainstream science books between 1991 and 2019. Walter was one of the original employees at Cable News Network when it went on the air June 1, 1980 and later became its youngest bureau chief when he created CNN’s first Southeast Bureau in 1981 before heading up the network’s San Francisco Bureau in 1982. He has written and produced several PBS science documentaries, served as an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University in three different departments, worked with UNICEF on the issue of childhood trauma, spoken at Harvard, Xerox PARC, Carnegie Mellon University and the Chautauqua Institution. One of his three original screenplays was produced and released under the title Sunset Grill in 1993 starring Peter Weller, Lori Singer and Stacy Keach. In 2015 his feature story for National Geographic Magazine explored the origins of human art and symbolic thinking.

From Wikipedia

Health: Characteristics Of Neurodegenerative Diseases (Mayo Clinic)

Dr. Nilüfer Ertekin-Taner, neurogeneticist and behavioral neurologist, discusses characteristics of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and movement disorders. She also discusses her research on the complex genetics of Alzheimer’s disease, including identifying therapeutic targets and biomarkers. She highlights Mayo Clinic’s unique approach to patient care.

Video Interviews: Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin On Aging Well (PBS)

As a neuroscientist, professor emeritus of psychology, musician and best-selling author, Daniel Levitin has extensively studied the brain and its impact on aging. His latest book, “Successful Aging,” explores the questions: what happens in the brain as we age and what are the keys to aging well? NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker recently spoke to Levitin to learn more.

Daniel Levitin website

PBS Newshour episode website