Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimer’s Research UK’

Brain Scans a Tool In Early Alzheimer’s Detection

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Researchers believe they can see revealing brain shrinkage years before a person develops memory loss or other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The new finding may ultimately let physicians detect the disease and treat patients earlier with the goal of keeping them functional longer.

Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to measure how thick the brain’s outer layer is in 159 people who did not suffer from memory loss.  Earlier studies have linked Alzheimer’s disease with distinctive shrinkage in nine regions of the brain’s gray matter, or cerebral cortex.  This is what physicians call the “Alzheimer’s signature.”

According to researchers, the brain shrinks as it loses nerve cells – more commonly known as neurons.  They aren’t entirely sure what causes this.  One theory is that the cells die after they become choked by excess amounts of two kinds of protein — beta amyloid and tau.  “The neurons degenerating over time are really what we think causes the shrinkage,” said researcher Brad Dickerson, M.D., an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the frontotemporal disorders unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.  “And that shrinkage in their size is something you can measure with an MRI scan.”

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  The number of deaths has increased in recent years, and there is no cure.  In the new study, researchers focused on how thick the edges of the brain are.  “We’re looking at the parts of the cortex that are particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, parts that are important for memory, problem-solving skills and higher-language functions,” Dickerson said.

The 15 percent of participants – who averaged 76 years old –who had the thinnest brain areas performed poorly on the tests: About one in five of them were experiencing cognitive decline, as well as increases in signs of abnormal spinal fluid, a possible sign of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  “That suggests they may be developing symptoms,” according to Dickerson.

Susan Resnick, PhD, who works at the National Institute of Aging, wrote:  “The ability to identify people who are not showing memory problems and other symptoms but may be at a higher risk for cognitive decline is a very important step toward developing new ways for doctors to detect Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr. Simon Ridley, from the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “The ability to predict who will develop Alzheimer’s disease is a key target for dementia research, as it would allow new treatments to be tried early, when they are more likely to be effective.  These findings add weight to existing evidence that Alzheimer’s begins long before symptoms appear, although it’s important to note that the study did not assess who went on to develop the disease.  This research provides a potential new avenue to follow, but we need to see larger and longer-term studies before we can know whether this type of brain scan could accurately predict Alzheimer’s.”

Writing in Time, Alice Park notes that “Alzheimer’s disease has always been difficult to diagnose — the only way to identify it definitively is by autopsying the brain after death — but scientists may now have an easier way to spot the degenerative brain disease long before that, even before symptoms appear, using brain scans.  By studying people’s brain scans over time, they were able to see that these nine brain regions appear to be thinner in people who eventually go on to develop Alzheimer’s — but that it takes many years for this structural difference to show up as symptoms of memory loss or cognitive problems.  Using this brain-size signature as a yardstick, the researchers decided to confirm the correlation by testing the patients’ cognitive abilities three years after a baseline brain scan.  Indeed, they found that 21 percent of participants, who had the thinnest Alzheimer’s-related brain regions but showed no signs of memory problems or other cognitive deficits at the start of the study did show signs of cognitive decline three years later, compared with none of the subjects who did not have the same brain thinning and seven percent who showed moderately thinner brain areas.”

When It’s Not Just a “Senior Moment”

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

The British government has embarked on an ad campaign encouraging early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Experts believe there is a time when people come to the realization that a family member may have a memory problem.  As a result, they are being warned to act and seek help from the Department of Health (DH), which is launching a campaign on the issue.  In the ad campaign, the government tells the story of a man in the early stages of dementia, and his daughter, who senses that she is losing her father.  It highlights the importance of contacting a primary-care physician if you have symptoms like memory loss, confusion and anxiety.  “People are afraid of dementia,” said care services minister Paul Burstow.

According to Alzheimer’s patient Derek Wilson: ”I knew that there was something wrong with me.  Rather than face the possibility someone we love has the condition, we can wrongly put memory problems down to ‘senior moments’,” he said.  “Don’t wait until a crisis.  Being diagnosed with dementia won’t make the condition worse, but leaving it untreated will.”

Approximately 820,000 Britons have Alzheimer’s, out of a population of roughly 62 millionIt is estimated that six out of 10 people with dementia have not been diagnosed in the United Kingdom. In other words, nearly 400,000 people could need help from the National Health Service (NHS) and are not getting it.  According to Burstow, “But if we are worried, the sooner we discuss it and help the person seek support the better.  Don’t wait until a crisis.  Being diagnosed with dementia won’t make the condition worse but leaving it untreated will.”

Family members typically first notice problems when they visit relatives over Christmas, prompting a big increase in calls to the Alzheimer’s Society’s helpline. Last January it had a 43 percent increase, chief executive Jeremy Hughes said.  “It’s when you see someone you perhaps haven’t seen for a while that you can see the difference.  If their memory is going, if they’re getting confused, if they have sudden mood changes, that’s the time to say ‘maybe you should see your doctor’.”

The £2 million campaign is print, television and radio.  According to DH estimates, every general hospital has cost overruns of £6 million because of dementia, a result of the worse outcomes for length of stay, mortality and institutionalization. Better management of patients with hip fractures who also have dementia could save between £64 million and £102 million in England every year.  Professor Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia at the DH, said.  “Timely early diagnosis and supportive interventions allow people to plan for the future while they still can.  They have been shown to reduce care home admissions and improve the quality, not only of the life of the person with dementia, but also their family, caregivers and friends.”

Dr. Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, agreed that the ability to diagnose dementia is ‘crucial’ to providing effective treatment.  According to Ridley, “Although people may be fearful of the worst, a diagnosis can empower them to access the right treatments and support to preserve independence.”