Alzheimer's Disease Research Review: Winter 2019
- A Novel Approach for Memory Improvement in Alzheimer’s Disease
- President’s Corner
- Researcher Spotlight - Ryan Darby, MD
- Selective Memory in the Alzheimer’s Disease Brain
- Disaster Preparedness for Alzheimer’s Caregivers
- Vascular Dementia: Reducing Risks with a Brain-Healthy Lifestyle
- Your Legacy Gift Can Change the Future
- Healthy Recipe: Broccoli Soup
A Novel Approach For Memory Improvement In Alzheimer’s Disease
The devastating effects Alzheimer’s disease has on memory and brain functioning are its most widely recognized symptom, but the exact causes that accelerate memory loss are not known. However, scientists think that a toxic protein, beta-amyloid, plays a vital role in disrupting how brain cells interact as Alzheimer’s progresses and symptoms become more pronounced.
Alzheimer’s Disease Research grantee Yingjun Zhao, PhD, a research assistant professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in California, has a certain perspective on what has gone wrong in the brain of someone experiencing dementia. “Most studies focus on memory formation, but people with Alzheimer’s have trouble both forming and keeping memories. Our work focuses on forgetting,” says Zhao. “We hope new leads for drug development will arise from this research, which will offer hope for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.”
Dr. Zhao is specifically studying the protein appoptosin, which regulates cell death. His earlier research showed the protein exists at higher levels in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Removing the protein slowed memory loss in mouse models—indicating it has therapeutic potential.
With support from an Alzheimer’s Disease Research grant, Dr. Zhao will advance his earlier findings to better understand the effects of increasing or decreasing appoptosin levels on brain function and whether reducing appoptosin levels can rescue brain function and memory deficits. Insights from his work could yield new therapeutic options for Alzheimer’s.
Says Dr. Zhao, “Unless we make progress toward understanding and reversing the effects of this disease, this could potentially have devastating effects on the quality of life in countless individuals. I would like to thank Alzheimer’s Disease Research and their donors for providing the support for this project, which will help us gain new understanding of the manifestation of memory deficits in Alzheimer’s.”
In my conversations with Alzheimer’s Disease Research grantees, I come away energized by their excitement for the work they’re doing. It’s their passion, expertise, and focus that is driving the progress being made against Alzheimer’s today.
A number of grantees, like Dr. Zhao, whose work is featured in this issue, are working to help us understand why and how memory loss happens. Through these investigations, we’ll learn more about how Alzheimer’s disease affects the biology that controls how memories are stored and retrieved in the brain. And, every study moves us closer to treatments that could prevent memory loss from happening at all.
I’m thankful you’ve chosen to support this important work. Because of your generosity, every research project we’re able to support brings us closer to the answers we need to stop Alzheimer’s. Thank you!
Researcher Spotlight: Ryan Darby, MD
Delusions and hallucinations commonly occur in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, causing considerable distress for families and their loved ones. Throughout his undergraduate training, Dr. Ryan Darby, an assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University, was intrigued by the fact that both neurological and psychiatric patients shared these similar symptoms. His career has focused on why symptoms occur as part of the disease process and trying to better understand how these symptoms affect the person – the memories, thoughts, emotions, and personality traits – that make us who we are.
As an Alzheimer’s Disease Research grantee, Dr. Darby is using advanced neuroimaging techniques and behavioral tests to determine why delusions and hallucinations arise and if they should be treated differently. Brain scan images will help determine if abnormalities in specific brain regions occur in patients with hallucinations and delusions, compared to patients without these symptoms. And behavioral testing using tasks designed to measure self-monitoring of beliefs and perceptions will provide insight into the underlying neurobiology of these symptoms.
With a better understanding of why delusions and hallucinations occur it may be possible to expand the currently limited therapeutic options for patients. This includes new types of drugs, as well as the possibility of using noninvasive brain stimulation to alter specific networks in the brain. Says Dr. Darby, “I am incredibly thankful to Alzheimer’s Disease Research and their donors who have provided this opportunity to research and understand symptoms better in hopes of advancing treatments for patients with dementia.”
Disaster Preparedness For Alzheimer’s Caregivers
Supplies You Need In Case Of An Emergency
People with Alzheimer’s disease can be especially vulnerable during disasters such as severe weather, fires, floods, earthquakes, and other emergency situations. It is important for caregivers to have a disaster plan that includes the special needs of people with Alzheimer’s as these impairments in memory and reasoning severely limit their ability to act appropriately in crises.
You can customize a disaster kit for your family using these items as necessary.
- Pillow, blanket, or other comfort item the person can hold
- Favorite snacks and high-nutrient drinks
- Physician’s name, address, and phone number
- Waterproof bags to hold medications and copies of legal, medical, insurance, and Social Security documents
- Recent photos of the person in case you are separated
- Warm clothing and sturdy shoes, labeled for easy identification, incontinence undergarments, wipes, and lotions
- Spare eyeglasses and hearing-aid batteries
- Flashlights and extra batteries
**Be sure to store your kit in a watertight container where it can be easily accessed in an emergency.
Selective Memory In The Alzheimer’s Disease Brain
The ability to selectively remember important information and ignore distraction is critical for optimal memory. This is particularly true when we experience a stressful or emotional event that consumes our attention. Evidence suggests that a specific region of the brain, the locus coeruleus is involved with focusing our attention when we are interested or stressed. This area of the brain is one of the first impacted by aging, and has a role in our flexibility to respond to some stimuli, and ignore others. Loss of neurons in the locus coeruleus is associated with Alzheimer’s progression, yet currently little is known about the impact of this on cognitive function and dementia.
Thanks to an Alzheimer’s Disease Research grant, Dr. Sara Gallant is investigating the relationship between changes in the locus coeruleus and cognitive function in aging and by Alzheimer’s. Dr. Gallant will use functional magnetic resonance imaging to study how this area of the brain works. Her project is unique as it will be one of the first to examine how the locus coeruleus’ structure and function relate to aging and Alzheimer’s.
Vascular Dementia: Reducing Risks With A Brain-Healthy Lifestyle
After Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia is the next most common type of dementia. Vascular dementia develops when the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients by disease of either the large or small blood vessels. It can look different from Alzheimer’s disease because failure of large blood vessels may result in strokes, which cause neurological symptoms that are found with destruction of specialized brain areas. Lifestyle factors play a critical role in the development and progression of vascular cognitive impairment.
The vascular system is the body’s network of blood vessels and having “vascular risk factors” such as high or low blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and smoking in mid-life will significantly increase the risk for later dementia. Fortunately, there are lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing vascular dementia. Taking prescribed medications as directed by your physician for blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and controlling diabetes all help limit the consequences of these medical conditions. In addition, weight control, appropriate physical activity, and a healthy diet are powerful contributors to better health in later years. Making sure to include even one daily serving of fruits and vegetables in your diet will significantly lower your stroke risk. And it is never too late to benefit from quitting smoking.
Healthy Recipe: Broccoli Soup
- 1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli (or 10-ounce pkg. frozen chopped broccoli, thawed)
- 1/4 cup diced celery
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups nonfat milk
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 dash pepper
- 1 dash ground thyme
- 1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
- Place vegetables and broth in saucepan.
- Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and cook until vegetables are tender (about 8 minutes).
- Mix milk, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and thyme; add to cooked vegetables.
- Cook, stirring constantly, until soup is lightly thickened and mixture just begins to boil, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cheese and stir until melted.
Yield: 4 servings
Your Legacy Gift Can Change The Future
A gift in your will or trust is a heartfelt way to support Alzheimer’s Disease Research well into the future without using any of your assets today. However, we know the process can seem overwhelming, which is why we offer a free personal estate planning kit. This kit includes a lesson and record book that will take you through the process of creating a will or trust step by step. If you would like a personal estate planning kit, please call Charles Thomas at 1-301-556-9397 or download at /www.brightfocusplannedgiving.org.