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Marijuana is the most used illicit substance in the country; experts anticipate that its use will continue to increase, as the substance becomes legalized in more and more states.

Interestingly, marijuana is also the most commonly used illegal substance by women who are pregnant—regardless of the fact that marijuana has been found to cause long-term effects to a person who is exposed to the drug before birth.

Those who start using marijuana during the teenage years may be exposing their brain to damaging effects that last a lifetime.  The brain is vulnerable and still developing during adolescents, which puts it at higher risks for impairment from exposure to substances—such as marijuana.

At the same time, many adults are using marijuana for relief from the symptoms of long-term illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.  But what are the long-term effects of marijuana on adults?  Let’s look at what the recent research tells us.

The New Research

A new study released by the Society for Neuroscience, discovered that compounds in marijuana, called cannabis, may engender both a therapeutic, as well as a damaging effect to the brain—depending on age and other circumstances.

The researchers discovered that when a fetus was exposed to marijuana in utero (during pregnancy), the result was damaging, long-term effects in the brain.  The scientists also discovered that marijuana use during adolescence may disrupt learning and memory, adversely impact communication between regions of the brain, and disrupt key neurotransmitters.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are released at the end of a nerve fiber that enable the transfer of impulses from one to another nerve fiber. 

But, in older adults with Alzheimer’s disease, the psychoactive compound called THC—found in marijuana—was found to improve memory and help alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease. 

Study Findings

The research findings revealed:
• Prenatal exposure to THC in rat studies,  produced long-term effect on metabolites (small molecules that are the end-products of metabolism) in the brain (making the animals more susceptible to stress in later life).
•Rats that were exposed to compounds similar to THC, during fetal development, were found to have impaired formation of neural (nerve) circuits.
•Adolescent rats exposed to marijuana were found to have an increase in activity in pathways of the brain that are involved in addiction.
•Cannabinoids in adolescent rats were found to disrupt protein development in the area of the brain involved in decision making, planning and self-control.
•In adult mice, long-term cannabinoid use alters metabolism and connectivity in the areas of the brain involved in memory and learning.
•In mice with Alzheimer’s disease, treatment with the psychoactive compound found in marijuana improved memory and reduced the loss of nerve cells.

In a press release, Michael Taffe, PhD, of Scripps Research Institute and an expert in substance abuse research, stated,  “Today’s findings lend new understanding of the complex effects that cannabis has on the brain.  While it may have therapeutic potential in some situations, it is important to get a better understanding of the negative aspects as well, particularly for pregnant women, teens, and chronic users.”

The research findings were presented at this year’s meeting of the Society for Neuroscience—the largest source of information and current news about brain science and health.

Learn more about innovative research on new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease by CLICKING HERE to access the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation’s website, Cognitive Vitality.

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BBC - Students in a retirement-home in The Netherlands - Report by Anna Holligan (BBC) - YouTube

Alzheimer’s disease is not strictly a condition that is prevalent in the U.S., it’s now being considered a worldwide epidemic by many medical experts. But, in some countries, people are coming up with innovative ideas about how society and communities can cope with the situation.

In the U.S., senior living facilities are designed just for older adults, many of which have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.  But, in the Netherlands, there is a new approach the ever-increasing number of seniors needing housing; college students are living with seniors.
The cohabitation idea is ingenious because it has solved the problem of the shortage of housing (and money) for college students, while creating an innovative program to address the social needs of seniors who live alone.

At a nursing home in The Netherlands, college students exchange 30 hours each month of their time—which is dedicated to helping seniors—for free rent.  During the 30 hours, college students commit to socializing, watching sports, celebrating birthdays, reading to seniors and more. 

The result is a win/win for both the seniors, who are happy to have company, and the students who can save money while going to college.

The Housing Program

The senior/student housing program in the Netherlands involves 6 students living among 150 senior citizens at a senior housing facility.  But the idea has become more widespread than just a single facility.  In fact, several other senior housing communities, have launched similar programs—one such program is in the United States.

In the U.S. music students are cohabiting with senior residents in exchange for performing recitals on a regular basis—to help cheer up the older adults. There’s also been a pre-school that incorporated its students into nursing homes, to allow seniors who live alone an opportunity to care for the little ones and experience their Grandparenting days again.
Notoriously, senior facilities were designed only for older people, to keep things quiet and on the down low for the so called frail elderly population.  But what many experts are finding out is that the noise and activity of younger people surrounding seniors, helps to liven things up and put a little more pep in their step.

Intergenerational Programs and Alzheimer’s Disease

But, what about residents with Alzheimer’s disease?  Although symptoms of Alzheime’s can include anxiety and aversion to noisy situations, other activities, such as listening to music and conversing with others, helps to improve mood in many AD patients, and may even relieve some of their symptoms—helping them to practice speech and memory skills.

Other people with mild Alzheimer’s symptoms may want to remain independent as long as possible, but simply need someone to check on them from time to time.  Having a young college student roommate is the perfect solution in this scenario, because the student can provide the emotional support and social connect that is vital for brain health—particularly in aging adults.

These innovative intergenerational programs are helping to change the way that society views aging.  If older people can be of use in helping to house college students, or reading to pre-school kids, perhaps they are not the throw away generation that much of society has deemed them to be after all.

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With all the advanced research in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), it’s difficult to believe that the cause of the disease could come down to something really simple, like treating Herpes.

But, according a recent study, published in October of 2018 in Frontiers of Aging, it’s possible that this may just be the case.  There has been evidence for decades of a link between the risk of AD, and infection with Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV1) in those who have a specific genetic predisposition.  This could indicate that a very simple treatment could be all that is required for one of the most misunderstood age-related diseases.

The Herpes Simplex Virus is commonly known as a cold sore. It manifests itself as fever blisters and cold sores around the mouth and face.

Professor Ruth Itzhaki has spent over 25 years studying the link between herpes and AD, at the University of Manchester. Itzhaki says she has uncovered new data pointing to the fact that antiviral drugs make a dramatic impact on reducing the risk of dementia in people with severe herpes.  Itzhaki has spent over 25 years studying the link between herpes and AD, at the University of Manchester.

Alzheimer’s disease and HSV1

When a person gets herpes, the virus hides, in a dormant state in the neurons (nerve cells) and immune cells, where it remains during the person’s entire lifetime.  Subsequently, when the virus is reactivated, it shows itself—from stress or illness—with symptoms of blisters around the mouth and face.

During the reactivation period (something happens to the infected nerve cells in the brain), “HSV1 could account for 50% or more of Alzheimer’s disease cases,” says Professor Itzhaki.

Another interesting fact is that people who carry the APOE-4 gene (a gene variant that is known to be associated with an increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease) are more known to have cold sores.

“Our theory is that in APOE-4 carriers, reactivation is more frequent or more harmful in HSV1-infected brain cells, which as a result accumulate damage that culminates in development of Alzheimer’s.”

The Research Findings

Few countries collect the population data required to test this theory—for example, to find out whether antiviral treatments reduce dementia risk.

Taiwan is one of the few countries said to collect enough data to find out if antiviral treatment reduces dementia risk in those with herpes.  Three studies on the development of dementia were conducted in Taiwan from the year 2017 to 2018, of which the primary cause was AD. The study focused on and the treatment of those infected with HSV or varicella zoster virus—more commonly known as the chicken pox.

“The striking results include evidence that the risk of senile dementia is much greater in those who are infected with HSV, and that anti-herpes antiviral treatment, causes a dramatic decrease in a number of those subjects severely affected by HSV1 who later develop dementia.”

Previous study findings from Itzhaki’s research revealed an association that supports the findings in Taiwan.  Itzhaki discovered that HSV1 causes protein deposits between nerve cells in the brain—which are characteristic of amyloid plaques—with tau tangles inside the neurons.  Tau tangles are telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Viral DNA is located very specifically within plaques in postmortem brain tissue from Alzheimer’s sufferers. The main proteins of both plaques and tangles accumulate also in HSV1-infected cell cultures—and antiviral drugs can prevent this.”

The researchers say that further studies are needed before a definitive causal link can be attributed to HSV1 infection and the development of dementia.

Learn more about potential new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, and the effectiveness of new supplements and medications for Alzheimer’s disease by clicking here to visit Cognitive Vitality—a website dedicated to helping consumers make smarter brain healthy choices.

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Memories are basically what shapes a person’s life, and most certainly comprises the history of each personal story.  Alzheimer’s disease (AD), robs its victims of these treasured memories, leaving people void of the knowledge of their past.

But, recently, a group of high school students, in Michigan, used modern technology to enable people with Alzheimer’s dementia (the late stage of Alzheimer’s) to connect with their memories.  The project, “Creating a Real-Life Video Experience for Individuals Facing Memory Loss,” is said to help people with dementia, as well as the students who are involved.

One personal story, featured on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News is about a 91 year old woman, named Arlene.  Arlene has dementia, but, yet, she’s smiling in the featured article’s video, as she bee bops to a song from her time: Glen Miller’s “In the Mood.”  Sabrina Helmer, a 17 year old high school student, sits beside Arlene in the video, as she sings along to the tune.

Sabrina says that she began working on the video project to help people with AD and other forms of dementia, recall important memories. Sabrina added that she knew that losing touch with cherished happenstances (and people) from the past would most certainly cause depression.

The Video Project

The project was started by the president and CEO of a senior living facility, Denise Rabidoux at EHM Senior Solutions. “I wanted the students to see that people with dementia can live full and joyful lives, even if they’re now living their life in a different way,” says Rabidoux. “This project offered a person-centered way for students to find out as much as they could about this person with dementia and create a multi-dimensional friendship.”

The video project combined students from Saline High School’s STEAM Program involving elderly people with memory problems.  STEAM stands for science, technology, arts, engineering, and manufacturing.

Sabrina and Arlene were assigned to each other. The other students were teamed up with men living in EHM’s residential care facility.  Arlene resides at EHM’s memory support center—for those with memory problems, like Arlene. 

The high school students work to create images that people with dementia (and other memory problems) can access that will help trigger their memory.  Training was provided by EHM’s staff members, as well as by project managers and videography experts from iN2L—a tech company that offered its FOCUS touchscreen tablet for students to record the videos. 

The FOCUS tablet can hold personal videos and photos to help prompt a person’s memory.  It also has a selection of memory games and brain fitness programs.  The tablet is utilized by senior living facilities across the country to help promote better memory care for residents. 

How the Technology Works

Arlene had never seen the device before and she was happy to be working on it with Sabrina-who shows Arlene a video of the senior’s home and yard.  The two proceed to talk; Arlene talks about being a Girl Scout troop leader and going camping.  The iN2L is one of many new technical devices designed to help people with Alzheimer’s disease.  Students from all walks of life, at schools across the country, are joining the efforts to help with the cause, as a vital part of the team that helps people with dementia learn how to use the technology.  But, it goes beyond learning about the use of new technology.  As Sabrina puts it, you have to connect on a deeper level, “It’s human emotions that you have to connect with first,” she says.

“This project is a great example of giving older adults a personal connection to technology,” Rabidoux said. “The experience also helped to push past the misconception that people with dementia are unable to engage in a meaningful way and maintain relationships.”

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Studies have shown that heavy smoking during the senior years can raise one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Other research studies indicate that smoking in middle-age can lead to a higher chance of getting AD.  But, when you think about it logically, it usually all starts during the high school or college years.

Statistics on Students Who Smoke

It’s common for young people to take up smoking.  In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, 13% of those who are between the ages of 18 and 24, smoke cigarettes. The CDC reports that 19% of smokers graduated from high school and 18.5% completed some college.

While it’s true that vaping has taken the place of smoking for many students, smoking cigarettes is still common.  In fact, according to a recent article published by The State Press, there is a misperception that due to the new trend of vaping, young people no longer smoke.  The State Press article goes on to explain that, “cigarette smoking is still extremely prevalent among college students.” When tobacco use—chewing or cigars—is lumped together with cigarette smoking, the statistics show that around one-third of college aged students use tobacco products.

As mentioned, the problem with smoking starts when students engage in social smoking.  This doesn’t necessarily lead to daily or heavy smoking right away, but, nicotine is an addictive substance, and over time, a percentage of smoking students will go on to develop long-term habits.  In turn, long-term smoking can raise the risk of one getting Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other medical conditions.

“One in ten ASU students say that they have smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days,” Karen Moses, the director of Wellness and Health Promotion at ASU, said. “Not all of them smoke daily, so it is the social smoking,” she added.

A common deterrent to smoking used to be free ads on television, created by the CDC.  One such ad featured a woman smoking through her tracheotomy—a hole in the neck for breathing, which can result from throat cancer.  The commercial resulted in 100,000 smokers who ended up quitting.  Unfortunately, in modern times, many young people watch commercial free programming—such as Netflix and Hulu—and they miss out on public safety ads.

The Skinny on Smoking and Dementia

Just like the woman with the hole in her neck, Alzheimer’s and cancer do not occur as an instance response to predisposing factors—such as smoking.  It happens over time.  But, according to WebMD, one study discovered a very strong link between those who smoke 2 packs of cigarettes per day—from age 50 to age 60—and the development of dementia later in life. 

Life long habits, such as smoking, are hard to quit.  But, as a college student, if you never get started, it won’t be an issue down the road.  Quitting smoking is one of several Alzheimer’s prevention measures that can be implemented today, for a healthy brain tomorrow!

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When a person is affected by a debilitating disease or condition, it seems as though there is always some type of stigma attached.  This is most likely the result of misunderstanding, or perhaps even fear surrounding the illness or affliction. 

What is a Stigma?

Historically, a stigma was a word meaning a mark that branded a person—such as a slave—indicating the person was inferior.  In the Oxford Dictionary a stigma is a mark of disgrace, linked with a certain person, or circumstance.  A common modern-day definition of stigma, according to the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia is, “a complex social experience, referring to the reaction of others when a person was thought to deviate from normal. A stigma is often described as a process in which a label—such as a diagnosis—links a person to discrediting characteristics associated with that label.” 

The Stigma Associated with AD

The medical experts say that the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD),“has been grounded in a disease label that is based on a diagnosis of disabling cognitive and behavioral impairments, that is, dementia caused by AD,” according to a recent study published by the National Institutes of Health

In AD, the stigma that is oftentimes attached to the disease can be devastating for the person who must carry the label of having dementia.  It can cause the person with AD to have feelings of low self-worth and even incompetence.  Many people with AD want to isolate because of this—which is one of the worst things for AD symptoms. Feeling stigmatized and judged can lead to loneliness, depression and economic hardship in people with dementia.

But, thankfully, not everyone stigmatizes Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.

Study of High School Students and AD Stigma

Research in the area of public stigma and Alzheimer disease is attracting increased attention in the last years. However, studies are limited to assessing the topic among adult persons.
A new study was conducted to find out how high school students viewed people with Alzheimer’s disease, and the results were surprising—in a good way!

The study, involving 460 high school students, aged 14 to 15, was conducted to measure the percentage of teenagers who have a stigma toward an older person with dementia.  The study also examined whether majority or minority status was linked with stigmatic beliefs.

In the study, a little over half of the student participants were female (55.1%), and the rest were male.  Most of the study subjects were Jewish (64.6%) and the remainder were Arabs.  Each student was given a questionnaire to evaluate any stigma or ageism linked with Alzheimer’s. 

Study Findings

The study authors concluded that high-school students reported “relatively low levels of stigmatic beliefs toward a person with AD.”  The findings from the majority- minority status portion of the study revealed that Arab high school students had higher levels of stigma toward a person with AD,  compared to Jewish students.

The researchers said that the results of the study indicated just how important it is to develop intervention programs (tailored to the specific cultural values and needs) for students at an early age.

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Colleges and Universities around the country are working to raise awareness in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.  One such college is Iowa State University (ISU),  Students at ISU formed 2 clubs to help students learn about the disease.

According to Heather Kruger, an academic adviser in the School of Education. “Having clubs on campus is a great way for our students to educate others about the disease. It is unbelievable how many students are affected by the disease. Our hope is to continue to educate and raise funds to help researchers find a cure.”

Founder of AFA On Campus

Founder and president of Iowa State’s AFA On Campus chapter, Hannah Chute, decided to form the club because of her grandfather getting diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  “I watched how the disease affected him and my entire family — it was devastating,” said Hannah, a junior in ISU’s elementary education program.  “He passed away a few years ago and I knew that I had to do everything in my power to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research,” Hannah added.

Another student at ISU, Joe Webb, co-president of a club, called Advocates for the Alzheimer’s Association at Iowa State, and graduate research assistant in food science and nutrition, also experienced Alzheimer’s disease (AD) firsthand—in his family or origin.  In a recent Iowa State Education News article, Joe told reporters that he knew many other students on campus who had also been impacted personally by the disease.

“On our club recruitment form, I asked people why they wanted to be involved in our organization. The majority of them said they had a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, or they’ve had a close connection with the disease,” Joe said. “I really feel that Alzheimer’s disease not only impacts the person with the disease, but also the person’s family and community.”

The two students, Hannah and Joe, have become very strong advocates for raising awareness of AD—both on, and off ISU campus.

Taking AD Awareness to the State Level

Joe attended the Iowa General Assembly for Iowa Day at the Hill, where he spoke with state legislators.  He also visited the U.S. Capital to meet with members of Congress during an event aimed to educate people about the need for funding for AD research and support services.  “I’m very excited to learn more about what it’s like to advocate and campaign on Capitol Hill,” Joe said. “I’ll learn what I can do as a scientist to continue to make sure that we are speaking up for the people whose voices aren’t being heard.”

Hanna hosted a “Raise Your Voice for Care” event on the ISU campus.  The event included free activities and seminars aimed at raising awareness for AD and dementia.

Research and Alzheimer’s Awareness

The two advocates also became involved in AD research, working with a science and nutrition professor, named Auriel Willette.  Professor Willette shares his research during guest visits to the AFA On Campus meetings.  He is also an advisor for the Advocates for the Alzheimer’s Association Club. “Actions we take right now on a day-to-day basis, whether or not we see the long-term outcome, have a long-term effect on our brain,” Joe explained. “In our lab, we seek to understand how metabolism or diseases like diabetes or obesity lead to detrimental changes in the brain.”

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A new study, conducted at the University of Sao Paulo (in collaboration with the Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies) has discovered a link between the pathology of early Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the brain, and psychiatric symptoms.  Depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and other psychiatric symptoms may be linked with symptoms of Alzheimer’s that begin in the brain, early in the disease process.

The study was published in an October 2018 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Researchers are hopeful that evidence gathered in the study could lead to the ability to diagnose AD earlier, proving to be an instrumental new biomarker.  A biomarker is a measurable indicator of the severity or presence of a disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

In addition, the study findings may suggest to medical experts a new perspective on the origins of mental illness in many seniors.

Ground Breaking New Study

The groundbreaking research may help scientists in their quest to discover a better understanding of the origins of the first stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  The new study findings will help lead medical experts to being a step closer to a finding an effective treatment to slow down the progression of AD—or possibly even prevent the development of dementia (late stage Alzheimer’s disease).

Depression and Alzheimer’s Disease

Previous studies have pointed to the possibility that depression may predispose a person to AD; but, the recent study discovered that mental health symptoms (such as depression and insomnia) are closely linked with early stage AD pathology (disease) in the brain.

Lea Grinberg, MD, PhD, at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences’ Memory and Aging Center, partnered with the Brazilian team of researchers to discover that depression and other psychiatric symptoms do NOT cause AD, but, rather, may be the earliest warning signs of the disease. 

Grinberg explained, “The discovery that the biological basis for these symptoms is the early Alzheimer’s pathology itself was quite surprising.  It suggests these people with neuropsychiatric symptoms are not at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease—they already have it.”

Most postmortem (after death) brain studies of Alzheimer’s disease usually involves a relatively small number of samplings from older adults who showed symptoms of dementia, before they passed away.  Grinberg’s team was able to draw from a much larger population of brains of younger adults—and fewer brains of those with more than one disease.  In fact, Alex Ehrenberg, a research associate in the Grinberg lab, worked with the team from the University of Sao Paulo in studying the brains of 1092 healthy adults.

Study Findings

Alzheimer’s symptoms in the brain are characterized by the build-up of proteins, called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (also called tau tangles).  Healthy tissue in the brain begins to shrink in the areas where tau and amyloid accumulate.

Alzheimer’s disease usually progresses with tau tangles appearing initially in the brainstem area—which is associated with processing emotions, appetite and sleep.  The amyloid plaques normally show up in the cortical regions of the brain,then spread to deeper areas. The cortical areas are thought to be higher processing areas of the brain.

Ehrenberg and his team categorized each of the post mortem brains according to the progression of AD, based on the level of amyloid and tau accumulation.  Next, the team evaluated the donors’ emotional and cognitive status—from questioning family members and caregivers who were with the donor on a regular basis, in the last 6 months of life. 

The analysis indicated that in those whose brains had the early stages of tau tangles, but lacked memory changes, there was a reported increase of one or more psychiatric symptom, including anxiety, changes in appetite, depression, sleep disturbances, or agitation.

As the tau accumulation increased in the brainstem and started to spread out to other regions of the brain, so too did the symptoms of agitation, but, only in the later stages of tau buildup—when the pathology began to reach the brain’s outer cortex—did the person start exhibiting symptoms of dementia (such as memory decline and cognitive deficits).

Ehrenberg explained, “These results could have major implications for Alzheimer’s drug trials focused on early degenerative changes, where people have been seeking tractable clinical outcomes to target in addition to early cognitive decline.”  Ehrenberg added that the study findings will become even more useful as new diagnostic technologies become available for finding signs of early stage AD pathology, such as PET imaging of tau and blood biopsies. 

Conclusion

The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reports that this new discovery linking psychiatric symptoms with early Alzheimer’s is said by Grinberg to be “as exciting as the implications for Alzheimer’s disease itself.”

Learn more about new Alzhimer’s clinical research studies on products for Alzheimer’s treatment, by visiting the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation/Cogntive Vitality.

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Students give gift of music, memory to Alzheimer’s patients - YouTube

The impact of music on the brain, for those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has been studied quite extensively, as medical experts aim to identify as many Alzheimer’s prevention measures as possible. 

Music has been found to calm the brain and help the listener focus better, while staying in the moment.  For people with AD, listening to familiar songs has been found to stimulate deep emotional recall—even for those in the advanced stages of AD dementia.

When personalized music (that which is familiar to a person) was played to people with dementia in nursing homes, it was found to improve mood, increase physical activity, and even to reduce the need for medications (such as antipsychotic medicine).

College Students and Dementia Patients

Students across the country are getting involved in programs that help people with dementia get exposed to music.  One such student is Emily Damore, age 19, of Massachusetts. 

Emily volunteered for a program to help elderly people through Centers of America’s (LCCA) Soundtrack of Life Program.  The experience is said to have made an impact on her appreciation for music, as well as her overall perspective on life. 

“Every time I plug in my earphones, and I walk across campus while listening to my favorite song, I am just like, “Wow, this one song, that I am listening to at this moment, could be a song that gives me one moment of clarity,” said Emily.

Ms. Damore is an interdisciplinary and music, double major at Stonehill College, with plans to be a music therapist.  She’s one of 16 students from her college who volunteer to help people through the “Soundtrack for Life” program, for people with Alzheimer’s dementia.

The students receive 4 hours of training on how to work with people who have AD and other types of dementia, as well as various diseases that impact memory and mental function.

The Partnership
The partnership between Stonehill College and LCCA was set up over a year ago by Lisa Redpath, an associate professor at the college.  Lisa had a personal experience with Alzheimers disease, when her mother—diagnosed with AD—received the benefit of music before she passed away.  Redpath said, “The music part of the brain is the last to be touched by dementia and If we can light up that part of the brain, it can help them to become significantly more communicative.”

The student volunteers work with the patients to create the playlists, specific to each person with dementia.  Then the students record the response to listening for 30 minutes, and up to an hour.  The music is said to change the person’s mood, improve communication and more.  “During that period of time, a lot of symptoms regress back,” said Damore.  “You can almost see this dawn in their eyes when they remember who they are again. That is beautiful to see.”

“Every minute we give is a minute of changed life for somebody,” said Redpath. We’re giving the patient the opportunity and ability to tap into the brain’s elasticity, through musical memories, to recall things. That is a huge gift. That is our gift.”

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A new study, conducted at the University of Sao Paulo (in collaboration with the Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies) has discovered a link between the pathology of early Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the brain, and psychiatric symptoms.  Depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and other psychiatric symptoms may be linked with symptoms of Alzheimer’s that begin in the brain, early in the disease process.

The study was published in an October 2018 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Researchers are hopeful that evidence gathered in the study could lead to the ability to diagnose AD earlier, proving to be an instrumental new biomarker.  A biomarker is a measurable indicator of the severity or presence of a disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

In addition, the study findings may suggest to medical experts a new perspective on the origins of mental illness in many seniors.

Ground Breaking New Study

The groundbreaking research may help scientists in their quest to discover a better understanding of the origins of the first stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  The new study findings will help lead medical experts to being a step closer to a finding an effective treatment to slow down the progression of AD—or possibly even prevent the development of dementia (late stage Alzheimer’s disease).

Depression and Alzheimer’s Disease

Previous studies have pointed to the possibility that depression may predispose a person to AD; but, the recent study discovered that mental health symptoms (such as depression and insomnia) are closely linked with early stage AD pathology (disease) in the brain.

Lea Grinberg, MD, PhD, at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences’ Memory and Aging Center, partnered with the Brazilian team of researchers to discover that depression and other psychiatric symptoms do NOT cause AD, but, rather, may be the earliest warning signs of the disease. 

Grinberg explained, “The discovery that the biological basis for these symptoms is the early Alzheimer’s pathology itself was quite surprising.  It suggests these people with neuropsychiatric symptoms are not at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease—they already have it.”

Most postmortem (after death) brain studies of Alzheimer’s disease usually involves a relatively small number of samplings from older adults who showed symptoms of dementia, before they passed away.  Grinberg’s team was able to draw from a much larger population of brains of younger adults—and fewer brains of those with more than one disease.  In fact, Alex Ehrenberg, a research associate in the Grinberg lab, worked with the team from the University of Sao Paulo in studying the brains of 1092 healthy adults.

Study Findings

Alzheimer’s symptoms in the brain are characterized by the build-up of proteins, called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (also called tau tangles).  Healthy tissue in the brain begins to shrink in the areas where tau and amyloid accumulate.

Alzheimer’s disease usually progresses with tau tangles appearing initially in the brainstem area—which is associated with processing emotions, appetite and sleep.  The amyloid plaques normally show up in the cortical regions of the brain,then spread to deeper areas. The cortical areas are thought to be higher processing areas of the brain.

Ehrenberg and his team categorized each of the post mortem brains according to the progression of AD, based on the level of amyloid and tau accumulation.  Next, the team evaluated the donors’ emotional and cognitive status—from questioning family members and caregivers who were with the donor on a regular basis, in the last 6 months of life. 

The analysis indicated that in those whose brains had the early stages of tau tangles, but lacked memory changes, there was a reported increase of one or more psychiatric symptom, including anxiety, changes in appetite, depression, sleep disturbances, or agitation.

As the tau accumulation increased in the brainstem and started to spread out to other regions of the brain, so too did the symptoms of agitation, but, only in the later stages of tau buildup—when the pathology began to reach the brain’s outer cortex—did the person start exhibiting symptoms of dementia (such as memory decline and cognitive deficits).

Ehrenberg explained, “These results could have major implications for Alzheimer’s drug trials focused on early degenerative changes, where people have been seeking tractable clinical outcomes to target in addition to early cognitive decline.”  Ehrenberg added that the study findings will become even more useful as new diagnostic technologies become available for finding signs of early stage AD pathology, such as PET imaging of tau and blood biopsies. 

Conclusion

The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reports that this new discovery linking psychiatric symptoms with early Alzheimer’s is said by Grinberg to be “as exciting as the implications for Alzheimer’s disease itself.”

Learn more about new Alzhimer’s clinical research studies on products for Alzheimer’s treatment, by visiting the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation/Cogntive Vitality.

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