Experts estimate that 5.4 million people in the United States are now living with Alzheimer's disease, up from 5.3 million a year ago, robbing patients of their minds and memories. As the numbers of those with Alzheimer’s disease continue to climb because of the aging Baby Boomer generation, treatable versus untreatable cognitive decline has become one of the greatest public health concerns today.
Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth are proving that much can be done to improve a patient’s quality of life when receiving as well as after receiving a heartbreaking diagnosis. Lives can be dramatically changed for the better when hope is instilled, backed by scientific research, where before it had been vanquished.
Scientific study at the Center for BrainHealth focuses on four particular areas:
- Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias
- Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias
- Identifying brain biomarkers to aid in detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
- Staving off and slowing cognitive decline
The scientific discoveries at the Center for BrainHealth are centered on maximizing multidisciplinary science to identify brain markers to document cognitive and structural brain changes in response to treatments. The research team hopes to identify people in the preclinical phases of Alzheimer’s disease by characterizing certain markers in the brain that are related to memory deficits. To that end, BrainHealth researchers are studying the effects of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by testing people with this early memory disorder to evaluate how their brains differ from those of healthy older adults. The goal: To reliably identify people with MCI early so physicians can prescribe a course of treatment that will either slow or stop the progression of memory disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The technique may help clinicians decide on proper treatments for persons with MCI and may also lead to an objective assessment of how the brain is responding to treatments.
Simultaneously, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth are also examining the earliest semantic memory retrieval markers of progression from mild cognitive impairment to early Alzheimer’s disease based on a model of semantic retrieval.The BrainHealth team has developed a semantic memory retrieval tool, the Semantic Object Retrieval Test (SORT), shown to be a highly sensitive and specific measure of semantic memory impairments in neurodegenerative diseases. BrainHealth researchers have discovered early EEG/ERP markers of conversion of mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias that will greatly aid early detection and successful application of emerging interventions to slow and hopefully prevent progression to Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists at the Center for BrainHealth are also investigating the cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms of human memory and how they are influenced by aging and disease. The research uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the brain activity of younger and older adults as they perform mental tasks and focuses on the continued development of fMRI experimental methods to make comparisons across population groups. The research team has created an innovative model based on differences in neurostructure and function that are used to drive predictions and formulate experiments in a number of different domains, especially normal cognitive aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The research team at the Center for BrainHealth is examining the benefits of strategy-based cognitive training as an approach to slow the progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists are evaluating the benefits of the BrainHealth developed Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART) program in adults with mild cognitive impairment on both trained and untrained measures of cognitive performance, on real-life functionality, and on event-related potential measures. A pilot study at BrainHealth has shown the benefits of SMART training in normal seniors who are at-risk for cognitive decline. BrainHealth scientists are currently systematically evaluating the benefits of SMART in mild cognitive impairment patients so that in the future hundreds of thousands of individuals can be reached.
Center for BrainHealth researchers are also studying both the cognitive and brain changes associated with exercise in adults 60-75 years old. In the study, participants engaged in cardiovascular exercise three times a week for one hour. BrainHealth researchers found that exercise increased blood flow to the medial temporal lobe that controls memory. Other participants were given cognitive training where researchers employed SMART training to teach participants gist abstraction. Scientists documented that the brain training of deeper-level thinking carries over into untrained areas allowing individuals to more effectively assimilate, manage and utilize information. This revolutionary research shows just how tied together brain health and physical health are and allows BrainHealth researchers to establish the differential benefit of either mental or physical exercising on robust brain function and preventing cognitive decline.
Center for BrainHealth scientists continue to provide hope for those who have been diagnosed with the devastating disease of Alzheimer’s - hope for maintaining as much of a normal life as possible for a person with the disease as well as their caregivers; hope for finding early indicators of the disease and hope that our research will lead to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, protection of cognitive function and healing of the brain. For more information and guidance for those diagnosed, click here.
The National Institutes of Health has developed guidelines to cover the full spectrum of the disease as it progresses. The new guidelines also incorporate the use of biomarkers, as found in spinal fluid, blood, or neuroimaging tests, to diagnose the disease and assess its progress. The stages have been divided into the following:
First Stage: Preclinical Alzheimer's
The first stage, as defined by the new criteria, is for research purposes only and addresses the idea that patients could be developing Alzheimer's even when they are not experiencing cognitive or memory problems. Including this preclinical phase will help researchers,like our team at BrainHealth, determine whether there is a detectable biological change caused by Alzheimer's.
Second Stage: Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
Before an individual is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he or she may exhibit small, but notable, changes in memory, behavior, and thinking as a result of MCI. While these changes do not affect the individual's ability to function throughout the day, these differences are often noticed by family members and close friends.
However, not all cases of MCI develop into Alzheimer's disease, as some symptoms may be a result of other issues.
Third Stage: Dementia Because of Alzheimer's
The third and final stage is outlined as the phase with which most poeple are familiar. In this stage, memory, thinking and behavioral symptoms have affected the patient's ability to function. The new guidelines do not limit the symptoms to memory issues and include symptoms such as difficulty finding words, visual and spatial problems, and impaired reasonin and judgement.
These new stages will aid both research scientists and physicians in continuted study and treatment of the brain and its health as related to Alzheimer's
However, every individual is unique and symptoms are not universal.
Symptoms of mild Alzheimer's disease
- Memory loss of recent events
- Difficulty with problem solving, complex tasks, and sound judgments
- Changes in personality
- Difficulty organizing and expressing thoughts
- Getting lost or misplacing belongings
Symptoms of moderate Alzheimer's disease
- Show increasingly poor judgment and deepening confusion
- Experience even greater memory loss
- Need help with certain daily activities
- Undergo significant changes in personality and behavior
Symptoms of severe Alzheimer's disease
- Lose the ability to communicate coherently
- Require daily assistance with personal care
- Experience decline in physical abilities
Learn about the Discovery Group, a unique program that unites those with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, their caregivers, and healthcare graduates to improve quality of life after diagnosis and raise awareness about the signs of dementia.