Wednesday, 29 July 2009


First in A Series of Inspirational Profiles of Individuals Confronting Alzheimer’s Disease
(Source: Alzheimer's Association )

Alan Romatowski - Grounded by Alzheimer's but still rising above

Three years ago, when Alan Romatowski was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 55, he was a pilot for USAirways, a profession he'd enjoyed for the past 30 years.

"The diagnosis put a sudden stop to my career as an airline pilot," Alan says. "The news that I had Alzheimer's was, of course, initially devastating. But as time passes I am finding more and more to be thankful for."

Today Alan volunteers at a local Specialty Care Center, working in the physical therapy department and escorting Alzheimer's patients to and from medical appointments. Alan also delivers Meals on Wheels and works part time at a gas station.

"I became involved with the Alzheimer's Association shortly after my diagnosis," Alan says. "I turned to the Association for help and began participating in one of their support groups."

It wasn't long before Alan's natural leadership abilities came to the forefront. In 2008, Alan was appointed to the National Early-Stage Advisory Group, a leadership body of individuals living with Alzheimer's. In this role he serves as an advocate, traveling to speak about his experiences and rally others with Alzheimer's to help defeat this disease by participating in clinical trials of new treatments.

"I just completed a term with the Early-Stage Advisory Group for the Alzheimer's Association," Alan says. "I now work with the local Pittsburgh office and will once again be participating in Memory Walk. Recently I was elected to the Greater Pennsylvania Chapter Board of Directors."

"After my diagnosis I had a choice of either surrendering to Alzheimer's or go on fighting. I chose to fight," Alan says. "My wife and I stand shoulder to shoulder to fight this disease, and I appreciate and cherish my wonderful family more than ever."

Sunday, 26 July 2009


Though discoveries about Alzheimer's disease risk factors are often in the news, adults do not know about the relationship between Alzheimer's disease risk and heart health, nor that physical activity can be protective against dementia, according to new research reported at the Alzheimer's Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD 2009) in Vienna.

An additional study reported at ICAD 2009 shows higher Alzheimer's risk in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"Your brain plays a critical role in almost everything you do: thinking, feeling, remembering, working, and playing – even sleeping," said Maria Carrillo, PhD, Director of Medical & Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer's Association. "The good news is that we now know there's a lot you can do to help keep your brain healthier as you age. These steps might also reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or another dementia."

"There's a strong and credible association between heart health and brain health. If people learn about and do some simple lifestyle modifications, such as being more physically active and eating a brain healthy diet, it could have an enormous impact on our nation's public health and the cost of healthcare," Carrillo added.

Adults Show a Poor Understanding of Alzheimer's Link to Heart Health Risk Factors

Colleen E. Jackson, M.S., a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Connecticut, and colleagues conducted an anonymous online survey of 690 adults to measure "dementia literacy," that is, their knowledge and beliefs that may assist in the recognition, management, or prevention of Alzheimer's.

Mean age of the population was 50 years, the range was 30-85 years; 76% of respondents were female. Ninety-four percent (94%) of participants were from the United States, with the remaining 6% from other English-speaking countries. The sample was relatively wealthy, with 18% of respondents making more than $200,000 per year at the peak of their careers, and well-educated, with 87% of respondents having completed at least 1-3 years of college.

The researchers found that 64% of study participants incorrectly indicated no association between Alzheimer's and obesity or high blood pressure. Sixty-six percent (66%) did not know that high stress is a risk factor for dementia, and 34% did not know that physical exercise is a protective factor.

On the positive side, nearly all study participants (94%) correctly indicated that Alzheimer's is not normal aging, and is not completely based on genetics.

"Our data suggest that American adults have limited knowledge and a poor understanding of factors that have been demonstrated to increase risk for Alzheimer's, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and other heart health risk factors," Jackson said. "They also didn't know much about protective factors against Alzheimer's, such as physical exercise, relative to the strength of the available research evidence."

"We need more education programs and opportunities, across all demographic groups, focusing on behaviors that modify your risk for developing Alzheimer's disease," Jackson added.

PTSD Linked to Nearly Double Dementia Risk in Veterans

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among veterans returning from combat and there is some evidence that it may be associated with reduced cognitive function. However, no study has yet investigated if PTSD increases the risk of developing dementia.

To address this emerging issue, Kristine Yaffe, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Epidemiology and Associate Chair of Research for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry and Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, and colleagues sought to determine if PTSD is associated with risk of developing dementia among older veterans in the U.S. receiving treatment in veterans' medical centers.

They studied 181,093 veterans aged 55 years and older without dementia (53,155 veterans diagnosed with PTSD and 127,938 veterans without PTSD) using data from the Department of Veterans Affairs National Patient Care Database. Mean baseline age of the veterans was 68.8 years and 97% were male. They followed the veterans from 2001 through 2007, including tracking whether they were diagnosed with Alzheimer's/dementia.

The researchers found that veterans with PTSD in the study developed new cases of dementia at a rate of 10.6% over the seven years of follow-up; those without PTSD had a rate of 6.6%. (Note: This is updated data from the researcher, which is why it differs from the attached abstract.) Even after adjusting for demographics, and medical and psychiatric comorbidities, PTSD patients in this study were still nearly twice as likely to develop incident dementia compared to veterans without PTSD (HR = 1.8, 95% CI 1.7-1.9). Results were similar when they excluded those with a history of traumatic brain injury, substance abuse or depression.

"It is critical to follow patients with PTSD, and evaluate them early for dementia," Yaffe said.

"Further research is needed to fully understand what links these two important disorders. With that knowledge we may be able to find ways to reduce the increased risk of dementia associated with PTSD."

(Source: ScienceDaily, July 24, 2009)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


Eating a "heart healthy" diet and maintaining or increasing participation in moderate physical activity may help preserve our memory and thinking abilities as we age, according to new research reported at the recent Alzheimer's Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD 2009) in Vienna.

"We can't do anything about aging or family history, but research continues to show us that there are lifestyle decisions we all can make to keep our brains healthier, and that also may lower our risk of memory decline as we age," said William Thies, PhD, Chief Medical & Scientific Officer at the Alzheimer's Association.

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Pattern May Reduce Age-Related Cognitive Decline

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet is often recommended by physicians to people with high blood pressure or pre-hypertension. The DASH Diet Eating Plan has been proven to lower blood pressure in studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. High blood pressure is considered a risk factor for Alzheimer's and Dementia.

Heidi Wengreen, RD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Utah State University, and colleagues examined associations between how closely people adhered to the DASH Diet and risk of cognitive decline and dementia among older participants in the Cache County Study on Memory, Health and Aging.

In 1995, 3,831 study participants 65 years of age or older completed a survey that included a food frequency questionnaire and cognitive assessment. Cognitive function was checked again during four assessments over 11 years using the Modified Mini-Mental State examination (3MS), which is graded on a 100 point scale. A DASH diet adherence score was created based on consumption levels of nine food-group/nutrient components -- fruit, vegetables, nut/legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, sodium, sweets, non-fish meat, and fish. Participants were ranked by DASH score into five groups, or quintiles.

The researchers found that higher DASH scores were associated with higher scores for cognitive functioning at the beginning of the study and over time. Those in the highest quintile scored 1.42 points higher at baseline and 1.81 points higher after 11 years on the 3MS than did those in the lowest quintile of the DASH score (p-values <0.001).

They also found that four of the nine food-group/nutrient components used to create the DASH score were independently associated with 3MS scores - vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nut/legumes. The scientists created a diet adherence score based on just these four components which they then tested for association with changes in cognitive abilities on the 3MS. Those in the highest quintile scored 1.72 points higher at baseline and 3.73 points higher after 11 years than did those in the lowest quintile of the four-component score (p-values <0.001).

"Our results suggest that including whole grains, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, and nuts in one's diet may offer benefits for cognition in late life," Wengreen said. "However, we need more research before we can confidently say how much of these foods to include in your diet to experience some benefit."


(Source: Alzheimer's Association: Special issue on ICAD and Alzheimer Research.

Higher levels of closeness to ones caregiver were significantly associated with a slower decline, especially in persons with spouse caregivers.

A group of Utah State University researchers and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and Boston University have demonstrated that the rate of clinical progression of dementia may be slowed by a close relationship with one's caregiver. The findings will be published in the September 2009 issue of "The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences" by Oxford Journals

The research study "Caregiver Recipient Closeness and Symptom Progression in Alzheimer Disease. The Cache County Dementia Progression Study," started in 2002 and monitored 167 participants with Alzheimer's disease for three years. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, measured the cognitive and functional status of the participants and the caregiver-reported relationship of the participants. It was found that higher levels of closeness to ones caregiver were significantly associated with a slower decline in both cognitive and functional domains, especially in persons with spouse caregivers.

USU Researchers involved in the study are Maria Norton, Associate Professor of Family, Consumer and Human Development and Principal Investigator for the Cache County Memory Study, the population wide project from which persons with dementia were identified; JoAnn Tschanz, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Cache County Dementia Progression Study; and Kathy Piercy, Associate Professor of Family, Consumer and Human Development; and Chris Corcoran, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Statistics.

"This is the first study to demonstrate that, in addition to medications that help slow the progression of the disease, there are non-pharmacologic factors in the caregiving environment that may also help to extend functional abilities and quality of life for the person with dementia," Norton said. "Considering the aging of the 'Baby Boomer' generation, finding ways to reduce risk for development of dementia and slowing the rate of decline in affected individuals are urgent public health priorities."

The researchers will now focus on finding the kind of caregiver activities that may promote the longevity and quality of brain function for those suffering from dementia. The new focus may lead to interventions that will enhance the care-giving relationship and help slow the decline caused by Alzheimer's disease.

USU has collaborated with Duke University and Johns Hopkins University since 1994 when it began the Cache County Memory Study. The study is funded by the National Institute on Aging and has followed an initial cohort of more than 5,000 persons aged 65 and older to study the genetic and environmental factors that affect risk for development of Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias. Persons identified with dementia by the Cache County Memory Study are then monitored by the Cache County Dementia Progression Study.

The Cache County Memory Study follows individuals to the point of dementia onset to study what factors affect risk of developing the disease. The Dementia Progression Study is focused on what factors affect the rate of progression of the disease once it has started.

"The extraordinary participation rate (90 percent of the entire eligible population) and unusual longevity of the population in Cache County, Utah (the U.S. county with the highest longevity, based on 1990 Census), have made our university and its setting an ideal place for such a large-scale epidemiologic study," Norton said.

Norton has been involved in managing the study since its inception in 1994 and has been the local director of the project since 2001.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


One or two alcoholic beverages a day may reduce an elderly person’s risk of developing dementia by almost 40 percent, a study presented at the recent International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Vienna found (ICAD).

The results show people aged 75 years and older reap the same benefits from alcohol as their middle-aged counterparts, the researchers said. They asked more than 3,000 adults how often they drank and examined them every six months for up to six years for signs of memory loss or mental decline.

The findings aren’t a free pass for drinking among the elderly, the results showed. People who were already showing signs of memory problems deteriorated significantly faster if they drank alcohol, and the more they consumed the worse the symptoms became. Heavy drinkers, defined as those consuming more than 14 drinks a week, were almost twice as likely to develop dementia, researchers said.

“If you’re already drinking, you don’t need to cut back if you’re cognitively healthy, but we don’t have enough information to recommend you start drinking,” Kaycee Sink, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said during a press conference. “The benefits increase as people move from mild to moderate levels of drinking, and then start to decline.”

Range of Benefits:

Alcohol has a range of benefits, such as boosting good cholesterol, preventing blood platelets from clotting and prompting the production of chemicals that help memory, Sink said. When older people show signs of dementia, the benefits may be outweighed by the toxic effects of drinking, she said, emphasizing that the theory is unproven. Heavy drinking is associated with a range of problems, including smaller brain volumes and vitamin deficiencies, she said.

The study divided the group into four categories: those who abstained, light drinkers who had one to seven beverages a week, moderate drinkers at eight to 14 weekly drinks and heavy consumers who had more than 14 every week.

The participants had an average age of almost 80 years and most, 43 percent, didn’t drink at all. One-third took a drink a few times a week, while the rest were moderate or heavy drinkers.

The moderate drinkers were most likely to benefit from their alcohol habits, with the risk of developing dementia lowered by 37 percent, according to the study.

“It’s a nuanced message, and we need to take some care with that, especially given the large number of people with mild cognitive impairment that remain undiagnosed,” William Thies, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, said in an interview. “Still, people are comforted by the fact that a drink or two a day is ok.”

(Source: Bloomberg, July 13, 2009)


New tests assessing brain changes and body chemistry are showing promise at diagnosing Alzheimer's disease in its earliest stages, aiding the search for new drugs, Researchers said at the recent Alzheimer's Association's annual International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease (ICAD).

In one study, Irish Researchers found scans measuring brain volume and a combination of memory tests accurately identified nearly 95 percent of people who had progressed from mild cognitive impairment to early Alzheimer's disease.

In another study, U.S. Researchers found that a type of brain scan that measures glucose combined with low scores on memory tests was a strong predictor of disease progression.

The findings, presented at an Alzheimer's Association meeting in Vienna, Austria, are some of the first from a five-year, $60 million study aimed at identifying brain changes that signal the advance of Alzheimer's disease.

"The idea is if there could be biological markers identified that tracked what was going on in the brain, this would give you a better idea of whether a drug was having a biological effect," Neil Buckholtz, who heads the U.S. National Institute on Aging's Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, or ADNI, said in a telephone interview.

The study, which is funded with U.S. government and industry funds, involves more than 800 people looking at brain structure and biological changes such as in spinal fluids that could signal disease progression.

Despite decades of research, doctors still have few effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease, a mind-robbing form of dementia that affects more than 26 million people globally and is expected to reach 100 million by 2050.


Only an autopsy revealing the disease's hallmark plaques and tangles in the brain can offer a definitive Alzheimer's diagnosis. Short of that, Doctors use Neurological and Memory Tests. Because they are subjective, drug companies must run large, costly trials to show their drugs work.

"Biomarkers may lead to cheaper trials," Buckholtz said.

In the Irish study, Michael Ewers of Trinity College Dublin and colleagues studied 345 participants in the ADNI study with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer's.

They looked at an array of tests and found three memory tests plus MRI measurements of brain volume in the left hippocampus - a region closely linked to memory - were most predictive of disease progression.

In a separate study, Susan Landau of the University of California, Berkeley used data on 85 patients and found positron emission tomography scans that measure glucose in the brain and poor memory recall were strong predictors. People who did poorly on these measures were 15 times more likely to progress to Alzheimer's within two years.

Buckholtz expects many more studies to come from the ADNI study. "The idea is we are trying to define the best biomarkers or combination of biomarkers that will allow us to assess progress," he said.

In another study presented at the meeting, a Team at Duke University in North Carolina led by Dr. Allen Roses found that a gene called TOMM40 raises Alzheimer's risk.

The gene predicted the age of Alzheimer's development within a five- to seven-year window in people over 60. It is closely linked to another Alzheimer's gene called ApoE4.

"It now looks fairly clear that there are two major genes -- APOE4 and TOMM40 - and together they account an estimated 85-90 percent of the genetic effect," Roses said.

(Source: Reuters, July 14, 2009)

Monday, 13 July 2009


A gene that may offer a highly accurate prediction of the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and the age at which people will begin to show symptoms has been identified by U.S. researchers.

The TOMM40 gene may be the most highly predictive Alzheimer's gene discovered so far, said the Duke University Medical Center Rsearch Team, who found that the gene could predict the age of Alzheimer's disease onset within a five- to seven-year window among people over 60.

The study was scheduled to be presented on July 12 at the Alzheimer's Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, held in Vienna, Austria.

"If borne out through additional research, a doctor could evaluate a patient based on age, especially among those over age 60, their APOE genotype and their TOMM40 status, to calculate an estimated disease risk and age of onset," Lead Author Dr. Allen Roses, Director of the Deane Drug Discovery Institute at Duke, said in a university news release.

In previous research, Roses found that apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotypes, particularly APOE4, are associated with increased risk and younger age of development of Alzheimer's disease. APOE4 accounts for about 50 percent of late-onset cases of Alzheimer's, but the cause of the remainder of cases hasn't been known.

"It now looks fairly clear that there are two major genes -- APOE4 and TOMM40 -- and together they account for an estimated 85 to 90 percent of the genetic effect," Roses said.

The Duke team is planning a five-year study of APOE genotypes and TOMM40, along with a drug trial to assess prevention or delay of Alzheimer's disease onset.

(Source: HealthDay News, July 12, 2009)

Saturday, 11 July 2009


People with superior language skills early in life may be less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease decades later, research suggests.

A Team from Johns Hopkins University studied the brains of 38 Catholic nuns after death.

They found those with good language skills early in life were less likely to have memory problems - even if their brains showed signs of dementia damage.

The study appears online in the Journal Neurology.

Dementia is linked to the formation of protein plaques and nerve cell tangles in the brain.

But scientists remain puzzled about why these signs of damage produce dementia symptoms in some people, but not others.

The Researchers focused on nuns who were part of an ongoing clinical study.

They divided the women into those with memory problems and signs of dementia damage in the brain, and those whose memory was unaffected regardless of whether or not they showed signs of dementia damage.

And they also analysed essays that 14 of the women wrote as they entered the convent in their late teens or early 20s, assessing them for complexity of language and grammar.

The study showed that language scores were 20% higher in women without memory problems than those with signs of a malfunctioning memory.

The grammar score did not show any difference between the two groups.

Lead Researcher Dr Juan Troncoso said: "Despite the small number of participants in this portion of the study, the finding is a fascinating one."

"Our results show that an intellectual ability test in the early 20s may predict the likelihood of remaining cognitively normal five or six decades later, even in the presence of a large amount of Alzheimer's disease pathology."

Brain Cell Growth

The study also found that brain cells were largest in women who retained a normal memory despite showing signs of disease in their brains.

The Researchers said this suggested that a growth in brain cells might be part of the body's early response to the onset of dementia, and this might help to prevent memory impairment.

Dr Troncoso said: "Perhaps mental abilities at age 20 are indicative of a brain that will be better able to cope with diseases later in life."

Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "It is interesting that the nuns in the study with better language skills in their youth avoided memory problems in later life."

"However, the research is in a very small, select group and it would be difficult to say at this stage if language skills could really predict dementia."

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: "One possible implication of this study is that an intellectual ability test in the early 20s may predict the likelihood of remaining cognitively normal five or six decades later.

"However, prominent exceptions exist, including Authors like Terry Pratchett and Iris Murdoch, who developed dementia despite their linguistic brilliance."

(Source: BBC News, July 8, 2009)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Saturday, 25 July 2009 : Alzheimer's Caregivers Sharing Session & Talk on "A Holistic Approach to Management of Dementia"

Dear Members/Public,

ADFM KL-PJ AD Caregivers Support Group Committee is having a Caregivers Sharing Session and Talk on “A Holistic Approach to Management of Dementia” on 25 July 2009.

The Agenda:

Day/Date: Saturday, 25 July 2009
Time: 2:00pm
Venue: Rumah Alzheimer’s, PJ Day Care Centre, No. 6, Lorong 11/8E, Section 11, 46200 Petaling Jaya


2:00 pm - Registration of Attendance.
2:30 pm - Talk on “A Holistic Approach to Management of Dementia” by Dr Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman.
3:15 pm - Caregivers Sharing Session – Dr Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman, Jasmin & Christin from ADFM PJ & Taman Seputeh Day Care Centre will facilitate the sharing , and Q&A Session.
4:00 pm - Light refreshment.

Kindly confirm your attendance to:

ADFM Secretariat, Kath Leong /Janet Low at Tel: 603 – 7956 2008 / 7958 3008 OR Email to:

OR you can register online with the ADFM National Alzheimer's Caregivers Online Network (NACON) at:


Alzheimer’s Caregivers are encouraged to participate in the Sharing Session. This is the occasion for the Care-givers to come forward to get acquainted with each other, seek support and assistance, and share their experiences.

Dr Daniel Zainal, Jasmin & Christine will be around to attend to you.


Dr Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman in his presentation will cover the causes of Dementia, Symptoms and Signs Management.


Dr Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman, a Consultant Psychiatrist, with 25 years experience as a Clinician and Head of Department in various government hospitals. Dr Zainal is currently in the private sector running clinics sessions mainly at Pantai Medical Centre (Bukit Pantai), Hospital Tawakkal, Tropicana Medical Centre (Kota Damansara), Hospital Pusrawi, and a clinic specializing in drug–substitution therapy. His clinical experience covers the whole spectrum of psychological/psychiatric disorders.

Dr Daniel Zainal is a qualified clinical hypnotherapist from the London College of Clinical Hypnosis (LCCH), and an affiliate member of the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis (BSCH ) and have attended various workshops on areas related to clinical hypnotherapy run by LCCH.

From: ADFM KL-PJ Alzheimer's Caregivers Support Group Committee

Friday, 3 July 2009


Treatment with a cholesterol-lowering drug might protect against Alzheimer's disease, new research suggests.

Scientists have long known that nerve cells in people with Alzheimer's die prematurely because they are strongly overstimulated, a process called excitotoxicity.

Theorizing that the cholesterol drug lovastatin might ward off cell death, researchers at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, conducted animal experiments in which they administered lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor) to overstimulated nerve cells. Lovastatin is a first-generation member of a class of drugs, statins, that has revolutionized the treatment of high cholesterol.

Lovastatin did indeed prevent cell death and, just as important, blocked the loss of memory that accompanies excitotoxicity, according to the lead scientist on the project, Amalia Dolga. Earlier, Dolga had shown that statins seem to stimulate the protective capacity of tumor necrosis factor, a key player in the brain's immune response. In addition, some researchers have speculated that high cholesterol might be a risk factor for Alzheimer's, suggesting that lowering cholesterol could be beneficial.

The findings are in the June Issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The degenerative disease attacks brain cells and ruins memory and thinking.

No cure has been found, but treatments have been shown to improve a person's quality of life.

(Source: HealthDay, June 30, 2009)


Going to the ballpark, visiting friends and playing bingo are simple diversions for many of us. But for the elderly, these social pastimes may play a critical role in preserving their physical and mental health.

In fact, a new study suggests that the less time older people spend engaged in social activity, the faster their motor function tends to decline. "Everybody in their 60s, 70s and 80s is walking more slowly than they did when they were 25," says Dr. Aron Buchman, a Neurologist at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and lead author of the study, which was published in the June 22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. "Our study shows the connection between social activity and motor function - and opens up a whole new universe of how we might intervene."

An increasing body of evidence has suggested that participating in mentally stimulating activity, socializing frequently and exercising may help protect against age-related decline - at least cognitive decline. As early as 1995, Neuroscientist Carl Cotman, who studies aging and dementia at the University of California at Irvine, published a paper in Nature showing that physical exercise produces a protein that helps keep neurons from dying and spurs the formation of new neural connections in the brain. More recently, Cotman demonstrated in studies of elderly dogs and mice that enriching their social environment is associated with improvement in brain function.

Researchers are also finding that social activity may be linked to the same protective effect in people. A recent study of 2,500 adults ages 70 to 79, published in the journal Neurology, found that those who were able to stay mentally sharp were also those who exercised once a week or more, had at least a ninth-grade literacy level and were socially active.

But what has social activity got to do with motor skills? In Buchman's study, which looked at 906 seniors, average age 80, in northeastern Illinois over a five-year period, increased social activity was associated with adeptness in a range of physical tasks, including walking in a straight line, standing one-legged and on tiptoes, turning full circle without falling and placing pegs on a board. On a social-activity scale of 1 to 5 - with 1 indicating participation in various social activities once a year, and 5 showing activity every day or nearly every day - a one-point difference in social activity corresponded to a five-year difference in motor function. With each one-point drop on the social-activity scale, study participants' rate of physical decline increased 33%. In participants whose score fell one point over the course of a single year, that translated to a 40% increased risk of death and a 65% higher risk of a disability.

"The idea that cognitive and physical function are connected is something that has just come out in the last few years. It is one of the new horizons in health care and prevention," says neurologist and aging expert Dr. Joe Verghese of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 showing that changes in walking patterns could be an early sign of dementia.

While further research needs to be done to establish the exact impact of social activity and exercise on specific age-related declines - it's likely that a reduction in social activity may simply be a symptom of physical decline, since people may naturally withdraw from social engagement as they lose motor skills - most researchers would agree that it is not unreasonable to encourage seniors to get out there more. Only 10% of people over 65 get the recommended amount of exercise (at least 2.5 to 5 hours a week), and given that seniors already tend to be more socially isolated than younger adults, it's difficult to motivate them to become more active. "If you are alone, you are less likely to follow recommendations," notes Verghese. It might help, though, if you visit with Grandma more often and let her know that a regular pastime may just help her stay fitter and sharper longer.

(Source: - June 2, 2009)


To stave off the mental decline associated with old age, engage in intellectually challenging activities, maintain a positive outlook and keep up your social life.

Those are the findings of what researchers say is the largest-ever review of studies on aging and the brain.

The review, which spanned three decades and covered more than 400 studies, found that remaining physically, mentally and socially active has a substantial impact on whether older adults experience declines in memory and cognition, which includes the ability to learn and solve problems.

"How people spend their lives does really have an impact on how they age cognitively," said study co-author Robert S. Wilson, a Professor of Neurological and Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "The observational studies suggest people who are more intellectually active, socially integrated, physically active and who are relatively free from negative emotions like depression and anxiety all seem to be associated with aging better cognitively."

As the population ages, being able to keep mental decline at bay for even a little longer could have significant public health implications.

"There is going to be a huge burden of old people who are cognitively impaired," Wilson said. "If we can develop strategies that delay the onset of the disease by six months or a year or two, we can substantially reduce the human suffering and the cost of caring for them."

The study, which will appear in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, was released June 24 in Washington, D.C.

It identified several aspects of a person's lifestyle that can have a major impact on mental function: exercise, staying socially integrated, participating in mentally stimulating activities and maintaining an optimistic, agreeable, goal-oriented attitude.

Though exercise had a powerful impact on mental function, the type of exercise made a difference.

In studies that asked older people how physically active they were, those who reported doing the most exercise had somewhat better mental functioning than those who were more sedentary, but the effect wasn't dramatic.

However, people who took part in studies that put them on a regular aerobic exercise program saw substantial gains in mental functioning.

Among older adults, even those who do relatively more exercise than their peers probably aren't doing all that much, Wilson said.

"Left to their own devices, most older people in this country don't exercise all that much at all," Wilson said. "Any exercise is good, but actually doing a regular program of aerobic exercise is better."

Walking, the most commonly cited exercise, can be part of an aerobic exercise program, but the pace must be fast enough to raise the heart rate.

Recent research has looked at whether specific products or programs, such as video games, improve cognitive functioning in older people. Although there is nothing on the market that is scientifically proven to increase memory and thinking skills, Wilson said, he thinks such products could be available soon.

But you don't have to go out and buy something to engage in intellectually stimulating activities, said Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Doing a crossword puzzle, playing chess or learning a language can fit the bill. Research shows that taking part in activities that are novel, challenging and in which you are personally invested can have a lasting impact on mental functioning.

"The reality is, as we age, cognitive processes slow down," Kennedy said. "It may take you longer, and you may have to practice longer to master something new, but hopefully you have health and the time to actually do that."

Though cognitive decline was once seen as an inescapable part of aging, public perception is beginning to change, and recent studies back that up.

"Most people's brains are under assault in old age, and the lifestyle stuff doesn't appear to stop that pathology," Wilson said. "But lifestyle does appear to help your brain tolerate that pathology. It helps you get more out of what you have left and to adapt to the changes in your brain, and it appears to make a big difference."

In an accompanying editorial, Jonathan W. King and Richard Suzman, from the U.S. National Institute of Aging, said that the study's findings overall paint a "fairly optimistic" picture.

"It could well be possible to design interventions that, when combined with appropriate lifestyle changes, could possibly at least slow the rate of cognitive decline," they wrote.

(Source: HealthDay, June 24, 2009)