Brain Scans Helping Us Learn About Dementia

Blog 2 6 15There is a growing body of research demonstrating that vascular health and brain health are closely linked.  For example, something called the “blood-brain barrier” acts as a sort of shield between the brain and the rest of the body, shielding the brain from toxic chemicals found in the blood. This barrier can become damaged as a person ages, and this damage often begins at the hippocampus (the brain’s center for learning and memory).

Neuroscientists at the University of Southern California have discovered that brain scans may have the ability to reveal blood vessel changes that occur in the hippocampus prior to the onset of dementia.  Developing strategies to protect the blood vessels in the hippocampus and reseal the blood-brain barrier may be a key to preventing various types of dementia (including Alzheimer’s).

Read More: Scans Detect Aging Brain Issues Linked to Dementia

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Cooling Brain Linked with Dementia Prevention

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It may sound strange, but there appear to be many health benefits associated with cooling down your body. This news is not surprising to scientists involved in aging and Alzheimer’s disease research. They have identified a specific mechanism by which exposing the brain to cold temperatures may help stave off brain cell loss, by activating the RBM3 protein.  While an experiment with brain cooling seemed successful in mice, there are obvious limitations to applying this technique to humans.  The next step for researchers is to develop medications that could simulate this same effect in people and perhaps help ward off dementia symptoms.

Read more: Cooling Brain Protein Could Aid Search for Alzheimer’s Treatment

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Wearable Sensors to Collect Health Information

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Much as our studies use sensors to monitor daily activity in homes, other researchers are working on sensor technology to monitor physiological data from patients with various diseases. Researchers from The University of California, San Diego have developed a type of sensor that sticks onto the skin, similar to a rub-on tattoo. This sensor measures blood glucose levels non-invasively, eliminating the need for daily needle pricks.

The sticker-like sensor works by registering glucose excretions on the skin and utilizing a “biosensing” mechanism to accurately monitor blood sugar levels that rise and fall throughout the day as a result of food consumption. This device is not the first of its kind; other types of sensors are currently being tested for potential use by diabetic patients, such as polymer microbeads that can be implanted just underneath the skin. The standard blood draw methods for glucose monitoring can be unpleasant and discouraging, but scientists are hoping that these non-invasive sensor technologies can help address these types of issues.

Read More: Bye Bye Pricking! Tattoo-Like Sensor Detects Blood Glucose Levels

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Knowledge of Aging Coming from Animals with Long Lifespans

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Scientists may be uncovering information about our own aging process from mammals other than humans.  As our understanding of DNA progresses, researchers are looking more at specific genetic variations that may unlock information about healthy aging. For example, in a recent study conducted by biologists at the University of Liverpool, bowhead whales were the focus of their research. These amazing animals grow up to 65 feet long, and can live over 200 years.

The recent study investigated specific genetic mutations that these whales have, in genes known as ERCC1 and PCNA. Both genes are involved in repairing DNA when it has become damaged in the body’s cells. These genes have the potential to protect against cancer and slow the aging process.  Scientists hope to apply this knowledge to help prevent diseases in the human body, by finding common pathways and patterns between our genomes and those of other long-living species.

Read More: Whale Genes Offer Hints to Longer Lifespans

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At-Home Dementia Symptom Monitoring

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A new way to track aging and dementia-related symptoms from the comfort of your own home may become popular in the next few years. Scientists at the Regenstrief Institute and the IU Center for Aging Research in Indianapolis have developed what is referred to as the Healthy Aging Brain Center Monitor, which is used by patients to report the progression of their dementia symptoms or improvements in their mental functioning.

The information collected from these measures provides valuable data for health professionals as they make decisions regarding patient care.  A recent study with 291 participants demonstrated that this easy-to-use symptom monitoring system has the potential to be used in clinical practice and as a way to help offset rising healthcare costs related to dementia in the coming years.

Read More: ‘Healthy Aging Brain Monitor’ Helps Patients Track and Self-Report Dementia Symptoms

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Detecting Heartbeats Using Spider-Inspired Sensors

heart-beatSpider senses have become the inspiration for sensors that could be used to detect vibrations such as simple words and heartbeats.  This sensor, created by researchers from Seoul National University in South Korea, copies the design of the organ called ‘slit sensilla’ in the joints of spider legs. This sensor can be worn by people around their necks and can detect heartbeats through blood vessels.

Read More: Spider-Inspired Sensor Can Now Help Detect the Faintest Heartbeat 

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A Look into the Theatrical Depiction of Alzheimer’s

STILL ALICE, Julianne Moore, 2014. ©Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett CollectionThere have been many interpretations of Alzheimer’s disease in the film industry and one recent film has peaked much interest. This new film tells the story of a linguistics professor, Alice Howlitz, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age fifty. The story is depicted by actress Julianne Moore, and her performance is expected to be an impressive and poignant movie portrait of a woman in the process of losing her memory while also trying not to lose her sense of self.

Read More: Review: Still Alice: Julianne Moore Reveals Alzheimer’s From the Inside

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Running May Lower Alzheimer’s Death Risk

runningroadA new study echoes previous findings that running 15 miles weekly may have a 40 percent risk reduction of death from Alzheimer’s disease.  The study also found that eating three or more pieces of fruit a day had a 60 percent risk reduction. Because the participants in the study were technically exercising daily, more research needs to be conducted in order to be representative of the general population and various exercise schedules.

And as with all studies of correlation, running and Alzheimer’s may be related, but there may be other factors at play as well.

Read More: Study Links Running to Lower Alzheimer’s Death Risk

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Mediterranean Diet May Help Slow Aging

mediterranean-diet-141202Researchers have found that women who eat a more Mediterranean style food tend to age at a slower rate. A Mediterranean diet consists of many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, olive oil, and moderate amounts of wine.

These are said to affect telomeres, which are found in blood cells and are sequences of DNA that protect caps at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres get shorter as cells age. Researchers found that the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in the Mediterranean diet have been found to buffer that shortening of telomere length and in retrospect, possibly protect cells from aging.

Read More: Mediterranean Diet Linked to Slower Aging

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Importance of Exercise Emphasized by Expert

Exercise as a health decline prevention method has been highly stressed by the chief exercise physiologist with San Antonio Health, Bob Barnard.  He noted that every movement can be seen as an improvement to the quality of life and an opportunity to maintain function. Also that a pause in physical activity, such as bed rest after an illness, can lower functioning, especially in seniors.

He emphasized that each individual should speak with a doctor first about beginning new exercise habits, because some types or intensities of exercise can pose their own risks. However, with caution and support, engaging in exercise can be a wonderful way to personally take charge of health and to challenge widely-held perceptions of limitations in senior years.

Read More: Exercise or Face Rapid Health Decline in Old Age, Expert Warns Gerontology Conference

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