International Alzheimer’s Meeting Highlights Landmark Discoveries

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On September 3, 2014, Posted by , In Alzheimer's Disease,Caregivers, By ,, , With Comments Off on International Alzheimer’s Meeting Highlights Landmark Discoveries

This past week, scientists, doctors, and researchers from around the globe got together to discuss a topic of great concern to many caregivers: Alzheimer’s.

The six-day, 2012 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), held in Vancouver, Canada, played host to a number of studies and presentations on the disease, which affects an estimated one out of every eight older Americans.

Here’s a breakdown of the top research findings presented at the conference:

  • Walking the Alzheimer’s walk: What does a person’s gait indicate about their mental functioning? Quite a lot actually, according to two new research studies. A Swiss study discovered that the slower a senior walked, the more impaired their cognition was. An analysis of the walking speed of more than 1,000 older adults showed that people with Alzheimer’s maintained the slowest pace, while people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) traveled a bit faster, and people whose minds were healthy were the swiftest. Another study, conducted by researchers from the Mayo Clinic determined that seniors whose walking patterns had a slower tempo and velocity, as well as a shorter stride length were more likely to have problems with their memory and cognitive function. The experts hope that these findings will contribute to the development of easier and more effective ways of diagnosing Alzheimer’s earlier in the elderly.
  • When ‘mild’ means serious: The term ‘mild cognitive impairment’ (MCI) has been used to categorize seniors whose mental capacities are more diminished than normal, but who have yet to develop full-blown dementia. MCI has previously been linked with an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But recent research has also linked it with a greater risk for isolation and death. In the first study, scientists from the Oregon Health and Science University found that, as an MCI sufferer’s symptoms become more pronounced, they will retreat more and more from society. By measuring the amount of time that seniors (both those with MCI, and those without) spent outside of their homes, the researchers were able to see the effect of cognitive impairment on a person’s social engagement. At the beginning of the study, seniors with and without MCI spent about 4.5 hours away from their homes each day. At the end, this number had decreased to 3.8 hours for cognitively normal seniors and 2.4 hours for MCI sufferers. The second study, carried out by researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, found that people with MCI have a risk of death that is 2.17 times higher than that of their cognitively healthy peers, while those with dementia had a 3.26 times higher risk of death. According to an AAIC press release, Ronald Petersen, Ph.D., M.D., a member of the Alzheimer’s Association Board of Directors, says, “Cognitive impairment of any kind is serious, and requires increased medical and personal attention. These studies validate the challenges of people living with MCI and their families and speak to the need for physician education to better manage their cognitive impairment and its broader impact on a person’s physical, mental and social health.”
  • The older brain and alcohol: There’re a lot of mixed messages when it comes to the effect of moderate alcohol consumption on dementia, however a couple of recent studies presented at the conference aim to help make sense of the conflicting reports. An analysis of elderly women, conducted by researchers from the Veteran’s Health Research Institute, concluded that women who increased their alcohol consumption later on in life had an increased risk for becoming cognitively impaired. If a nondrinker suddenly began to drink, her risk was increased by 200 percent. If a mild or moderate drinker upped her alcohol intake, her risk increased by 30 percent. Researchers also found that women who began the study as moderate drinkers were 60 percent more likely to be cognitively impaired than their more sober peers by the conclusion of the study. Another analysis, done by scientists from Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, found a connection between binge drinking in older adults and an increased of developing dementia. Binge drinking occurs when a person has four or more drinks within a short period of time. The authors of these studies believe their results show that doctors should make efforts to discover the drinking patterns of their older patients and help educate seniors on the effect that changes in alcohol consumption could have on their cognitive health.
  • Your brain on sleep: Sleep is good, and it’s good for you. Perhaps that’s why the conference saw the presentation of four different studies examining the effect of sleep on cognitive functioning. In an AAIC press release, William Thies, Ph.D., chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer’s Association says that, overall, the studies presented at the conference, “suggest that cognitive health declines over the long term in people with sleep problems.”

Here are some important findings from the sleep studies:

    • When compared to a group of seniors who slept an average of seven hours a day, seniors who slept less than five or more than nine hours per day had lower rates of cognition. Consistently getting too much or too little sleep could age the brain by about two years.
    • Seniors suffering from sleep disorders and disruptions (sleep apnea, insomnia, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, etc.) had lower levels of cognitive functioning and an increased risk of developing MCI or dementia.

While the studies presented at the AAIC are expected to help pave the way for future methods of diagnosis and treatment of cognitive disorders, these findings don’t mean that your dad has dementia because he shuffles when he walks, or that your mom, who can’t seem to stay asleep for more than an hour or two at a time, will eventually develop Alzheimer’s. Most of the study authors were quick to note that more research needs to be done to further explore the legitimacy and strength of the connections they uncovered.
Source: agingcare.com

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