REM sleep disorder may signal dementia, Parkinson’s disease

July 28, 2010

My Dad for years had these crazy sleep patterns, where he’d startle just as he hit REM, the Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep.

Of course I thought about that as I read of a new study in the journal, Neurology showing that an REM sleep disorder may signal dementia or Parkinson’s disease up to 50 years before the disorders are diagnosed. For the study, researchers used Mayo Clinic records for 27 patients who experienced REM sleep behavior disorder for at least 15 years before developing one of three conditions: Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies or multiple system atrophy, a disorder that causes symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.

The study found that the time between the start of the sleep disorder and the symptoms of the neurologic disorders ranged up to 50 years, with an average span of 25 years. Of the participants, 13 were diagnosed with dementia, 13 others were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and one person was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy.

“Our findings suggest that in some patients, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia with Lewy bodies have a very long span of activity within the brain and they also may have a long period of time where other symptoms aren’t apparent,” said study author Dr. Bradley F. Boeve.  His work did not give an indication how many people with REM disorder may go on to develop Parkinson’s or dementia.

Ninety medications in development to treat Alzheimer’s, dementias

July 24, 2010

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association shares some encouraging news with its report on medicines to treat mental illnesses. Ninety drugs are in various phases of research to treat dementias, including one that is designed to remove beta amyloid protein from the brain and prevent or reverse progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

I count 11 drugs in what is called “Phase 3″ trials, the final step toward approval and licensing of a new drug.

So, progress is underway.

More studies showing exercise can help stave off dementia, Alzheimer’s

July 14, 2010

Encouraging research being shared at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Honolulu this week shows that exercise may be a powerful antidote to cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Physical activity has long been related to cognitive decline, through several long-term epidemiological studies, but up until now, published research has not been consistent, and several large studies failed to show an association. Most of the studies followed participants for fewer than six years and/or lacked substantial follow-up. In fact, a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health recently reported that no proof exists for ways of preventing dementia.

Researchers have yearned for a long-term study of people within the age brackets at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s, in order to show a true relationship between exercise and cognitive decline. The Framingham Study, a population-based study that has followed participants residing in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948 for cardiovascular risk factors, is one such study, and it is now also tracking cognitive performance.

In work presented in Honolulu, Dr. Zaldy Tan of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues, estimated the levels of 24-hour physical activity of more than 1,200 elderly participants from the Framingham Study. They included 742 females, within five years of age 76 in 1986 and 1987, and followed them for the development of dementia. They divided the participants into five groups based on level of physical activity, from lowest (Q1) to highest (Q5).

Over two decades of follow-up, 242 of the women developed dementia, including 193 with Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that participants who performed moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had about a 40 percent lower risk of developing any type of dementia. Further, people who reported the lowest levels of physical activity were 45 percent more likely to develop any type of dementia compared to those who reported higher levels of activity.

“This is the first study to follow a large group of individuals for this long a period of time,” Tan says in a news release. “It suggests that lowering the risk for dementia may be one additional benefit of maintaining at least moderate physical activity, even into the eighth decade of life.”

Read news from Honolulu at the Alzheimer’s conference

July 13, 2010

If you couldn’t make it to Honolulu, (darn! me neither!) you can still stay up-to-date with what is happeneing at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease by reading the daily news releases. The web address is

Scientists study jellyfish for ways to preserve cognition in Alzheimer’s and other dementias

July 13, 2010

A biotech company in Madison, Wisconsin believes a protein from a jellyfish (with the scientific name, Aequorea victoria) can improve cognitive function in people with memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Quincy Bioscience representatives are at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease this week in Honolulu, presenting interim data that demonstrates the jellyfish protein improved cognitive testing scores by 14 percent in 60 days compared to placebo in the randomized controlled “Madison Memory Study,” which enrolled adults who had a memory concern. The average age in the study cohort of 35 people was 61 years old.

Why the jellyfish?

Partly because of its simplicity. “If you strip down all of the higher functions of thought from the human brain, you really end up with a very simple nervous system…as simple as the jellyfish,” says the Quincy website. Scientists have been studying the design of the jellyfish to understand how it might protect brain cells. Jellyfish make use of apoaequorin to sequester extra calcium ions, which are thought to be protective against neurodegeneration.

In diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,  calcium-binding proteins decrease and lead to brain cell death, or neurodegeneration. Scientists believe that by managing calcium levels in the cells, they can slow the aging process and preserve some quality of life.

Understanding what the ‘Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline’ panel said about the state of the science

June 30, 2010
Download the 21-page “Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline”
state-of-the-science conference statement

A call for mainstreaming people with Alzheimer’s; ‘what’s the harm in that?’

June 24, 2010

As soon as a person is diagnosed with Alzhiemer’s, friends often disappear–even quite early on when the person is just a bit forgetful.

“They think it might all be a bit too awkward,” Julian Hughes says of the friends.

“But attitudes must change. Those friends can adjust, let the conversation go with the flow, accept the person with dementia may be living within a few minutes of experience, so you may have to repeat your stories. But what’s the harm in that? If they are enjoying it, then it’s still a meaningful experience.”

Hughes is a British psychiatrist who specializes in aging–his academic interest is the notion of personhood–and recently he spoke throughout Australia, calling for mainstreaming of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and for governments to recognize this significant health issue. He also made the point that research funding for Alzheimer’s lags hugely behind other areas, such as cancer. “As the numbers (of diagnosed) rise, funding will need to increase by a factor of six to eight times to keep pace,” Hughes points out.

Dementia is the third-leading cause of death in Australia, behind heart disease and stroke. About 257,000 Australians have dementia today, and that’s expected to rise to more than a million by 2050.

In America, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease are almost equal to those from diabetes, and both rank below heart disease, cancer, respiratory disorders and accidents. But that’s expected to change in the coming years, as Baby Boomers begin hitting age 65. Today, 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease; that number will climb to 13.5 million by 2050, says a report from the Alzheimer’s Association, which says the costs of care will inevitably rise, too, from $172 million today to more than $1 trillion by 2050.

Read the story in The Australian.

Read my previous post about the rising cost of Alzheimer’s.


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