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Science and Research Questions

Latest Questions and Answers
My great-grandma suffered with Alzheimer’s disease. My grandma (her daughter) is showing the early signs of this condition too. I am worried that my mum and I will suffer from Alzheimer’s at some stage in our life. My mum did an Alzheimer’s test and the results said that she was unlikely to get it. I know my great-grandma married a cousin and there can be genetic health risks associated with that. I just wondered whether there is anything to suggest that this is a hereditary disease or is a disease that can result when blood relatives marry. [ 07/25/12 ]

Only a small percentage of Alzheimer's disease (AD) cases are considered strongly heritable, but research shows that there is also a limited increase in the likelihood of AD in people who have multiple affected relatives. This increase in risk is small, however.

The marriage of blood relatives reduces the opportunity to bring new and different genes into a family, and it slightly increases the likelihood that they might share a disease gene. Although your family's lineage does not seem especially risky, you may want to consult a genetic counselor, who can give you a more detailed risk assessment, if you have concerns about disease inheritance.

My 65-year-old husband has progressed beyond mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease and he is not able to be alone anymore, so I am his full-time care partner. For several months now he gets debilitating diarrhea every time he eats (usually within one hour of eating). It is difficult for him to explain how he is feeling, but he does not appear symptomatic beyond the diarrhea. My question is whether this is related to his Alzheimer’s condition? I am sure his medication isn’t causing this as he has been taking it for quite some time. [ 07/25/12 ]

Although his medications may not be relevant, it's worth considering whether they are playing a role. The cholinesterase inhibitors are known for causing diarrhea. Your husband's primary care physician will also want to check him for other causes of diarrhea including impaction, infection (including parasites), and nerve problems that can be associated with diabetes.

My mother was 35 years old when I was born, and now I am 57. My mother's mom, my mom, and her brother have all had Alzheimer’s disease. Now my oldest sister, who is 74, has the disease as well. Is it still just a wait and see disease or are there tests to determine if someone is in the very early stages? Maybe I could be studied so that my kids do not have to experience the very sad demise that my family members have experienced. Thank you for your input. [ 06/21/12 ]

A recent statement from the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging suggested that we should think of Alzheimer's disease as having an early stage in which the brain is increasingly affected but no cognitive changes are yet noticeable. It is likely that neuroimaging and other biomarker tests will soon help us identify people in this stage, but that very early detection is not yet a part of standard assessment.

Alzheimer's disease is a complex disorder, for which there is currently no known prevention or cure. Some research has generated hope that one day it might be possible to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, delay its symptoms, or even prevent it from occurring at all. Although there is preliminary data to support the benefit of some interventions, such as physical activity and cardiovascular risk reduction, nothing at this time has definitively been shown to prevent Alzheimer's disease or other dementias. You and your treating clinicians may want to keep an eye out for clinical trials recruiting families such as yours for early screening and intervention.

Is autism related to Alzheimer's disease? [ 05/16/12 ]

Although some observers have noted shared behavioral characteristics between Alzheimer's disease and autism and postulated that there might be a connection, the evidence for this does not appear to have been forthcoming.

What does empirical research suggest the prognosis is for a person with Alzheimer’s disease when he or she lives at home versus an assisted living or nursing facility? [ 04/27/12 ]

Not every home environment is suitable or safe for providing care to persons with dementia, and many long-term care facilities provide attentive service; nonetheless, one often hears of Alzheimer's disease patients who have survived for years in a home environment and one might wonder how much the loving care at home contributed to the extended survival. One study that looks empirically at this question was reported by McClendon and colleagues in the Journal of Gerontology, Behavior, Psychology, and Social Sciences in 2006. This study followed 258 persons with Alzheimer's disease and their family caregivers, and found evidence supporting the idea that delayed institutionalization was associated with prolonged survival. The decision for any specific family to seek institutional care, of course, depends on many factors associated with their personal circumstances.

Is there research that uses a device like a pacemaker to cure Alzheimer’s disease? My mom has this brain disease and my dad said that he saw information about this pacemaker on a television program. [ 04/26/12 ]

The "pacemaker" your dad saw is a treatment that has already helped patients with Parkinson's disease and is hoped to prove beneficial in other conditions as well. It is called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and involves the delivery of pulses of electrical stimulation to deep areas of the brain. The pulses originate in a surgically implanted pacemaker and travel through thin wires implanted within the brain tissue. In a preliminary study reported in 2010 by Dr. Laxton and his colleagues, data on a small group of Alzheimer's disease patients treated with DBS suggested that electrodes implanted in the brain's memory circuit could improve both metabolic measures (glucose utilization as shown on PET scan) and clinical measures (MMSE and ADAScog). The authors encouraged further exploration of this approach.

At what stage is Namenda no longer effective? [ 04/25/12 ]

It would be great to know the answer to this question, since nobody wants to give Alzheimer's patients medications that aren't helping them; however, there is not a great deal of scientific information to guide physicians. Studies have shown that Namenda (memantine) improves cognition and some behavioral measures in "severe" Alzheimer's disease patients, and one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association in 2004 reported that nursing home residents who discontinued Namenda showed, as a group, worse changes in cognition and mood than a comparison group who remained on Namenda. This study also reminds us that Namenda's benefits (though they may be modest) extend beyond measures of cognition.

Is BPSD (Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia) considered to be an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis? [ 04/24/12 ]

Current diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer's disease assess rely on the presence of cognitive but not behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. From the standpoint of a caregiver or clinician, though, these behavioral symptoms may create more distress than loss of memory. BPSD are usually the factors that determine when a person with dementia must move into institutional care, because it is so challenging to care at home for someone who, for example, is aggressive or tends to wander. These BPSD, incidentally, do not occur only in Alzheimer's disease—they are found in other types of dementia and in conditions other than dementia—but the majority of Alzheimer's disease patients will show them at some point in the course of the illness.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional; it is not intended to constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy. All medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. Also, although we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the posted information reflects the most up-to-date research.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

Last Review: 04/29/13

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