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July 10, 2019
Science Daily/The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)
The number of women regularly having sex declines with age, and the number of women enjoying sex postmenopause is even lower. Although these facts are not surprising, the causes for these declines may be because previous research focused largely on biological causes only. However, a new UK study identifies psychosocial contributors. Study results are published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
It's hard to pick up a woman's magazine or ob/gyn journal anymore without reading an article about how and why a woman's libido and level of sexual satisfaction decline during and after menopause. Substantial research has been conducted into biological reasons such as hot flashes, sleep disruption, vaginal dryness, and painful intercourse. Much less is known about the effect of various psychosocial changes that are common postmenopause. These include body image concerns, self-confidence and perceived desirability, stress, mood changes, and relationship issues.
Of the research that has been conducted regarding psychological influences, most of it has focused on quantitative results. A study of nearly 4,500 postmenopausal women involved in the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS), however, looked at free-text data to better understand why women felt a certain way and the depth of those feelings.
Among other things, the UKCTOCS sexual activity data showed that, at baseline, before the start of annual screening, approximately half of the women were sexually active. A decrease in all aspects of sexual activity was observed over time: sexual activity was less frequent, not as pleasurable, and more uncomfortable. The primary reason for absence of sexual activity was the lack of a partner, mainly because of widowhood.
Other commonly cited reasons for decreased activity included (in rank order) a partner's medical condition, a partner's sexual dysfunction, the woman's own physical health problems, menopause-related symptoms, and prescribed medication. Contributing most often to low libido were relationship problems, logistics, and perceptions of aging. Only 3% of participants described positive sexual experiences, whereas only 6% sought medical help for sexual problems.
Study results appear in the article, "Sexual functioning in 4,418 postmenopausal women participating in UKCTOCS: a qualitative free-text analysis."
"Sexual health challenges are common in women as they age, and partner factors play a prominent role in women's sexual activity and satisfaction, including the lack of a partner, sexual dysfunction of a partner, poor physical health of a partner, and relationship issues," says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director. "In addition, menopause-related problems such as vaginal dryness and pain with sex have been identified as problems affecting sexual function, yet few women seek treatment for these issues, despite the availability of effective therapies."
The light boosts a critical gene that strengthens blood vessels
August 8, 2019
Science Daily/University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found that intense light amplifies a specific gene that bolsters blood vessels and offers protection against heart attacks.
"We already knew that intense light can protect against heart attacks, but now we have found the mechanism behind it," said the study's senior author Tobias Eckle, MD, PhD, professor of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
The study was published recently in the journal Cell Reports.
The scientists discovered that housing mice under intense light conditions for one week `robustly enhances cardio protection', which resulted in a dramatic reduction of cardiac tissue damage after a heart attack. They also found that humans could potentially benefit from a similar light exposure strategy.
In an effort to find out why, they developed a strategy to protect the heart using intense light to target and manipulate the function of the PER2 gene which is expressed in a circadian pattern in the part of the brain that controls circadian rhythms.
By amplifying this gene through light, they found that it protected cardiovascular tissues against low oxygen conditions like myocardial ischemia, caused by reduced oxygen flow to the heart.
They also discovered that the light increased cardiac adenosine, a chemical that plays a role in blood flow regulation.
Mice that were blind, however, enjoyed no cardio protection indicating a need for visual light perception.
Next, they investigated whether intense light had similar effects on healthy human volunteers. The subjects were exposed to 30 minutes of intense light measured in lumens. In this case, volunteers were exposed to 10,000 LUX, or lumens, on five consecutive days. Researchers also did serial blood draws.
The light therapy increased PER2 levels as it did in mice. Plasma triglycerides, a surrogate for insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate metabolism, significantly decreased. Overall, the therapy improved metabolism.
Eckle has long known that light plays a critical role in cardiovascular health and regulating biological processes. He pointed out that past studies have shown an increase in myocardial infarctions during darker winter months in all U.S. states, including sunnier places like Arizona, Hawaii and California. The duration of the light isn't as important as the intensity, he said.
"The most dramatic event in the history of earth was the arrival of sunlight," Eckle said. "Sunlight caused the great oxygen event. With sunlight, trillions of algae could now make oxygen, transforming the entire planet."
Eckle said the study shows, on a molecular level, that intensive light therapy offers a promising strategy in treating or preventing low oxygen conditions like myocardial ischemia.
He said if the therapy is given before high risk cardiac and non-cardiac surgery it could offer protection against injury to the heart muscle which can be fatal.
"Giving patients light therapy for a week before surgery could increase cardio protection," he said. "Drugs could also be developed that offer similar protections based on these findings. However, future studies in humans will be necessary to understand the impact of intense light therapy and its potential for cardio protection."
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December 7, 2015
Science Daily/American Epilepsy Society
The largest and fastest-growing segment of people with epilepsy are those age 60 and older. People with epilepsy face a number of related health challenges, including cognitive, physical and psychological disorders. But new research suggests other, less expected consequences on the aging process. Four studies presented at the American Epilepsy Society's (AES) 69th Annual Meeting explore the effects of epilepsy on the brain, providing insights that shed light on the long-term implications of life with epilepsy.
People with epilepsy that is unresponsive to medication have brains that appear older than would be expected for their age, according to a study by researchers from New York University Langone Medical Center and Imperial College (abstract 1.146). The authors used structural MRI scans to predict the ages of participants with epilepsy and their healthy peers. A machine learning algorithm was used to predict age, based on data from healthy patients that had been gathered from large, publicly available imaging databases.
The difference between predicted brain age and chronological age was on average 8.8 years older for patients with uncontrolled epilepsy than healthy participants.
"The absence of similar changes in patients with new-onset epilepsy suggests that ongoing seizures may underlie the brain aging phenomenon observed in this study. This technique could potentially be used to identify individuals with intractable epilepsy early in the course of their disease, and may also be useful for other applications like measuring the protective effect of antiepileptic medication." said Heath Pardoe, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurology at New York University Langone Medical Center.
A second study, led by researchers at the University of Turku, reveals the fate of children with epilepsy 50 years later. The researchers followed 179 individuals with childhood-onset epilepsy from childhood to old age using neuropsychological assessments and multimodality imaging techniques to gain insights into the aging process. An analysis of the participants' survival, seizure outcomes, social integration and reproductive activity seems promising: Most of the participants achieved 10-year remission without medications, and most of those without comorbid illnesses graduated from school, obtained driver's licenses and achieved a socioeconomic status comparable with healthy controls. Although the researchers note that fewer participants with epilepsy live in partnership and have children compared with healthy participants, both groups appear to enjoy a high quality of life.
"Despite having excellent seizure outcomes, the subjects proved to have abnormal neurologic signs, including markers of cerebrovascular disease. This is an excellent opportunity to show, in further follow-up investigations, whether or not the markers of cerebrovascular diseases predict future stroke and cognitive impairment," said author Matti Sillanpää, M.D., Ph.D., a professor and senior research scientist at the University of Turku, Finland.
The third study, conducted at the University of Eastern Finland, is the first of its kind to link traumatic brain injury (TBI) with post-traumatic epilepsy (PTE) in the aging population, particularly in elderly people carrying risk genes for Alzheimer's disease (AD).
In a study in mice, researchers explored whether TBI increases risk for the development of epilepsy, called epileptogenesis, in those genetically at risk for Alzheimer's. They found that the combination of TBI and genetic risk for Alzheimer's not only resulted in epileptogenesis, but also some somatomotor and cognitive impairments. The study is the first of its kind to provide comprehensive evidence that TBI in those with a genetic risk for familial AD can result in exacerbated epileptogenesis and its molecular mechanisms.
"This study will help improve the quality of life of the elderly community by being able to identify risk factors associated with TBI and AD," said Asla Pitkänen, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., director of the department of neurobiology at the University of Eastern Finland. "By arming family members, caregivers and retirement communities with this information before a fall, we hope to put them on alert so preventative measures can be taken to prevent injury and post-traumatic epilepsy."
The fourth and final study, conducted by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, compared patients who had their first seizure in their sixth decade with patients who had seizures in their seventh decade or later to determine if the widely used term "epilepsy in the elderly" (EE) is an oversimplification. Seizure dynamics, MRI lesions, EEG findings and treatment course in elderly and middle-aged (MAE) patients were studied in both groups. EE and MAE patients showed similar variability with regard to imaging findings such as microangiopathy, infarcts, atrophy, tumors, vascular malformations and other pathologies. In addition, there was no significant difference between seizure dynamics, EEG findings and overall excellent treatment prognosis in both groups.
"We had postulated that 'epilepsy in the elderly' was conceptually irrelevant and would need to be replaced by a cause-driven sophisticated classification system in the aging brain," said Bernd Pohlmann-Eden M.D. Ph.D., a professor in the division of neurology, department of pharmacology and department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University. "However, our small group data comparison trial confirms that our understanding in which way individually documented MRI findings in the aging brain predispose to seizure recurrence is currently entirely speculative."
February 20, 2019
Science Daily/University of Texas at Austin
Researchers have found that older adults who spend more time interacting with a wide range of people were more likely to be physically active and had greater emotional well-being.
It's been said that variety is the spice of life, and now scientists say variety in your social circle may help you live longer. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have found that older adults who spend more time interacting with a wide range of people were more likely to be physically active and had greater emotional well-being.
In a paper out Feb. 20 in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, researchers found that study participants who interacted more with family members and close friends, as well as acquaintances, casual friends, service providers and strangers were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity, less time spent sitting or lying around, greater positive moods and fewer negative feelings. It is the first study to link social engagement with physical activity throughout the day.
"Adults often grow less physically active and more sedentary as they age, and these behaviors pose a risk factor for disease and death," said Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at UT Austin and the director of the university's new Texas Aging & Longevity Center. "It is difficult to convince people to go to the gym or commit to work out on a regular basis. But they may be willing to reach out to acquaintances, attend an organized group event, or talk to the barrista who serves them at their favorite coffee shop. Socializing in these contexts also can increase physical activity and diverse behaviors in ways that benefit health without necessarily working up a sweat."
The researchers asked study participants about their activities and social encounters every three hours for about a week. Participants also wore electronic devices to monitor their physical activity. Fingerman and the team observed that during the three-hour periods when participants were engaging with a greater variety of social partners, they reported engaging in a greater variety of activities such as leaving the house, walking, talking with others, or shopping. They also engaged in more objectively measured physical activity, and less time being sedentary.
Previous studies have shown that close social ties, like family and close friends, can be beneficial to older adults by providing a buffer against stress and improving emotional well-being. Researchers had not examined physical activity or the benefits of more peripheral social ties.
This study showed those acquaintances or peripheral ties may encourage older adults to be more physically active, a key factor that has been shown to contribute to physical and emotional health, as well as cognitive ability.
"Older adults may be able to be more sedentary with their close friends and family -- sitting and watching TV or otherwise lounging at home," Fingerman said. "But to engage with acquaintances, older adults must leave the house, or at least get up out of their chair to answer the door."
The study included more than 300 adults over 65 years old who lived in the Austin metro area and controlled for factors such as age, race, gender, marital status, education and ethnicity.
"Prior research on aging has focused almost entirely on the benefits of social connection with close social ties such as a spouse or an adult child," said co-author Debra Umberson, sociology professor and director of UT Austin's Population Research Center. "This new research relies on truly novel data that capture both the amount and quality of contact with all types of people that the elderly encounter throughout the day -- and the results show us that these routine encounters have important benefits for activity levels and psychological well-being. This new information suggests the importance of policies and programs that support and promote routine and informal social participation."
The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Graduate student Meng Huo of The University of Texas at Austin and Susan T. Charles professor of psychology of the University of California at Irvine contributed to the study.
March 18, 2019
Science Daily/University of Cambridge
People with heart disease are more likely to suffer from depression, and the opposite is also true. Now, scientists believe they have identified a link between these two conditions: inflammation -- the body's response to negative environmental factors, such as stress.
While inflammation is a natural response necessary to fight off infection, chronic inflammation -- which may result from psychological stress as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, physical inactivity and obesity -- is harmful.
The link between heart disease and depression is well documented. People who have a heart attack are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing depression. Yet scientists have been unable to determine whether this is due to the two conditions sharing common genetic factors or whether shared environmental factors provide the link.
"It is possible that heart disease and depression share common underlying biological mechanisms, which manifest as two different conditions in two different organs -- the cardiovascular system and the brain," says Dr Golam Khandaker, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge. "Our work suggests that inflammation could be a shared mechanism for these conditions."
In a study published today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, Dr Khandaker and colleague Dr Stephen Burgess led a team of researchers from Cambridge who examined this link by studying data relating to almost 370,000 middle-aged participants of UK Biobank.
First, the team looked at whether family history of coronary heart disease was associated with risk of major depression. They found that people who reported at least one parent having died of heart disease were 20% more likely to develop depression at some point in their life.
Next, the researchers calculated a genetic risk score for coronary heart disease -- a measure of the contribution made by the various genes known to increase the risk of heart disease. Heart disease is a so-called 'polygenic' disease -- in other words, it is caused not by a single genetic variant, but rather by a large number of genes, each increasing an individual's chances of developing heart disease by a small amount. Unlike for family history, however, the researchers found no strong association between the genetic predisposition for heart disease and the likelihood of experiencing depression.
Together, these results suggest that the link between heart disease and depression cannot be explained by a common genetic predisposition to the two diseases. Instead, it implies that something about an individual's environment -- such as the risk factors they are exposed to -- not only increases their risk of heart disease, but at the same time increases their risk of depression.
This finding was given further support by the next stage of the team's research. They used a technique known as Mendelian randomisation to investigate 15 biomarkers -- biological 'red flags' -- associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease. Mendelian randomisation is a statistical technique that allows researchers to rule out the influence of factors that otherwise confuse, or confound, a study, such as social status.
Of these common biomarkers, they found that triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) and the inflammation-related proteins IL-6 and CRP were also risk factors for depression.
Both IL-6 and CRP are inflammatory markers that are produced in response to damaging stimuli, such as infection, stress or smoking. Studies by Dr Khandaker and others have previously shown that people with elevated levels of IL-6 and CRP in the blood are more prone to develop depression, and that levels of these biomarkers are high in some patients during acute depressive episode. Elevated markers of inflammation are also seen in people with treatment resistant depression. This has raised the prospect that anti-inflammatory drugs might be used to treat some patients with depression. Dr Khandaker is currently involved in a clinical trial to test tocilizumab, an anti-inflammatory drug used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis that inhibits IL-6, to see if reducing inflammation leads to improvement in mood and cognitive function in patients with depression.
While the link between triglycerides and coronary heart disease is well documented, it is not clear why they, too, should contribute to depression. The link is unlikely to be related by obesity, for example, as this study has found no evidence for a causal link between body mass index (BMI) and depression.
"Although we don't know what the shared mechanisms between these diseases are, we now have clues to work with that point towards the involvement of the immune system," says Dr Burgess. "Identifying genetic variants that regulate modifiable risk factors helps to find what is actually driving disease risk."
The research was funded by Wellcome and MQ: Transforming Mental Health.
Dr Sophie Dix, Director of Research at MQ, says: "This study adds important new insight into the emergence and risk of depression, a significantly under researched area.
"Taking a holistic view of a person's health -- such as looking at heart disease and depression together -- enables us to understand how factors like traumatic experiences and the environment impact on both our physical and mental health.
"This research shows clearly the shared biological changes that are involved. This not only opens opportunities for earlier diagnosis, but also create a solid foundation for exploring new treatments or using existing treatments differently. We need to stop thinking about mental and physical health in isolation and continue this example of bringing sciences together to create real change."
Men have stronger positive correlation between fitness and brain function
February 13, 2019
Science Daily/American Physiological Society
New research suggests that the relationship between physical and brain fitness varies in older adults by virtue of their sex.
Cardiorespiratory fitness is the measure of how much -- and how well -- oxygen is delivered to the muscles during exercise. Fitness level has also been associated with changes in the brain's nerve-rich tissue, called gray matter, and better cognitive function in later life. Previous studies have also found cardiorespiratory fitness to be related to how the brain functions during periods of rest. Nerve connectivity in the brain during rest changes with age. These changes can negatively affect cognitive function. However, "the neural basis of sex differences in the relationship between fitness and brain function in older adults has not been directly explored," wrote researchers from York University and McGill University in Canada.
The research team studied one group of men and one of women, both with an average age of 67. The volunteers self-reported their typical daily physical activity level. The research team recorded the participants' height, weight, age, sex and resting heart rate to determine their cardiorespiratory fitness. They also administered imaging tests of the brain to record nerve function both within specific brain networks (local efficiency) and among all networks (global efficiency).
The men were found to have higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels than the women. However, the women had higher local network efficiency and lower global network efficiency than the men. This pattern of connectivity was more robust in the women and has been positively associated with executive function, which are skills that contribute to being able to focus, pay attention and manage time. Fitness levels, however, were more strongly associated with improving this brain efficiency pattern for men than women.
"Our findings that [cardiorespiratory fitness] is associated with brain function in a sex-dependent manner underscore the importance of considering sex as a factor when studying associations between exercise and brain health in older adulthood," the researchers wrote.
Potential risks and benefits
March 14, 2019
Science Daily/Rutgers University
How much vitamin D can boost memory, learning and decision-making in older adults, and how much is too much? A unique study found that overweight and obese older women who took more than three times the recommended daily dose of vitamin D showed improvements in memory and learning -- but also had slower reaction times. The researchers hypothesize that slower reaction times may increase the risk of falling among older people.
A unique Rutgers-led study found that overweight and obese older women who took more than three times the recommended daily dose of vitamin D showed improvements in memory and learning -- but also had slower reaction times. The researchers hypothesize that slower reaction times may increase the risk of falling among older people.
The researchers, whose work is in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A, used computers to assess the impact of vitamin D on cognitive function. The researchers evaluated three groups of women between 50 and 70 years old in a randomized controlled trial.
One group took the recommended daily dose of 600 international units (IU), equivalent to 15 micrograms, of vitamin D each day for a year. Another group took 2,000 IU per day and the third took 4,000. All women participated in lifestyle counseling and were encouraged to lose a modest amount of weight.
The researchers found that memory and learning improved in the group that took 2,000 IU per day, but not in the group that took the higher dosage. Meanwhile, the women's reaction time showed a trend to be slower at 2,000 IU daily and was significantly slower at the higher dosage.
"The slower reaction time may have other negative outcomes such as potentially increasing the risk of falling and fractures," said senior author Sue Shapses, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and director of the New Jersey Obesity Group. "This is possible since other researchers have found that vitamin D supplementation at about 2,000 IU daily or more increased risk of falls, but they did not understand the cause. Our team's findings indicating a slower reaction time may be one answer. Many people think that more vitamin D supplementation is better, but this study shows that is not always the case."
Shapses said 4,000 IU a day might not be a problem for younger people but for the elderly it could compromise walking or catching one's balance to avoid a fall because their reaction time is slower. This is a presumption until future research can cover vitamin D levels, cognition and falls in one study, she added.
Vitamin D -- known for its importance for bone health -- is obtained through sun exposure and some foods. Researchers have also found that vitamin D has a major impact on how the body, including the brain, functions.
Cognitive impairment and dementia are significant public health problems, especially with aging, the study notes. Evidence shows that vitamin D plays a role in cognition and the normal functioning of the central nervous system.
More than one in four adults 65 and older fall each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The annual U.S. toll includes 29 million falls, 3 million emergency department visits, 800,000 hospitalizations and 28,000 deaths. Falling also leads to more than $31 billion in annual Medicare costs, and the costs will surge unless the problem is recognized and prevention is stressed.
More research is needed to determine whether reaction time is related to rates of falls and injuries in at-risk populations. Examining different doses of vitamin D supplementation and from dietary sources in both men and women of different ages, and people of different races over a longer period, also needs to be studied, Shapses said. Larger studies are needed as well.
February 27, 2019
Science Daily/University of Rochester Medical Center
New research shows how the depth of sleep can impact our brain's ability to efficiently wash away waste and toxic proteins. Because sleep often becomes increasingly lighter and more disrupted as we become older, the study reinforces and potentially explains the links between aging, sleep deprivation, and heightened risk for Alzheimer's disease.
"Sleep is critical to the function of the brain's waste removal system and this study shows that the deeper the sleep the better," said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study. "These findings also add to the increasingly clear evidence that quality of sleep or sleep deprivation can predict the onset of Alzheimer's and dementia."
The study, which appears in the journal Science Advances, indicates that the slow and steady brain and cardiopulmonary activity associated with deep non-REM sleep are optimal for the function of the glymphatic system, the brain's unique process of removing waste. The findings may also explain why some forms of anesthesia can lead to cognitive impairment in older adults.
The previously unknown glymphatic system was first described by Nedergaard and her colleagues in 2012. Prior to that point, scientists did not fully understand how the brain, which maintains its own closed ecosystem, removed waste. The study revealed a system of plumbing which piggybacks on blood vessels and pumps cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through brain tissue to wash away waste. A subsequent study showed that this system primarily works while we sleep.
Because the accumulation of toxic proteins such as beta amyloid and tau in the brain are associated with Alzheimer's disease, researchers have speculated that impairment of the glymphatic system due to disrupted sleep could be a driver of the disease. This squares with clinical observations which show an association between sleep deprivation and heightened risk for Alzheimer's.
In the current study, researchers conducted experiments with mice that were anesthetized with six different anesthetic regimens. While the animals were under anesthesia, the researchers tracked brain electrical activity, cardiovascular activity, and the cleansing flow of CSF through the brain. The team observed that a combination of the drugs ketamine and xylazine (K/X) most closely replicated the slow and steady electrical activity in the brain and slow heart rate associated with deep non-REM sleep. Furthermore, the electrical activity in the brains of mice administered K/X appeared to be optimal for function of the glymphatic system.
"The synchronized waves of neural activity during deep slow-wave sleep, specifically firing patterns that move from front of the brain to the back, coincide with what we know about the flow of CSF in the glymphatic system," said Lauren Hablitz, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in Nedergaard's lab and first author of the study. "It appears that the chemicals involved in the firing of neurons, namely ions, drive a process of osmosis which helps pull the fluid through brain tissue."
The study raises several important clinical questions. It further bolsters the link between sleep, aging, and Alzheimer's disease. It is known that as we age it becomes more difficult to consistently achieve deep non-REM sleep, and the study reinforces the importance of deep sleep to the proper function of the glymphatic system. The study also demonstrates that the glymphatic system can be manipulated by enhancing sleep, a finding that may point to potential clinical approaches, such as sleep therapy or other methods to boost the quality of sleep, for at-risk populations.
Furthermore, because several of the compounds used in the study were analogous to anesthetics used in clinical settings, the study also sheds light on the cognitive difficulties that older patients often experience after surgery and suggests classes of drugs that could be used to avoid this phenomenon. Mice in the study that were exposed to anesthetics that did not induce slow brain activity saw diminished glymphatic activity.
"Cognitive impairment after anesthesia and surgery is a major problem," said Tuomas Lilius, M.D., Ph.D., with the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and co-author of the study. "A significant percentage of elderly patients that undergo surgery experience a postoperative period of delirium or have a new or worsened cognitive impairment at discharge."
Noninvasive treatment improves memory and reduces amyloid plaques in mice
March 14, 2019
Science Daily/Massachusetts Institute of Technology
By exposing mice to a unique combination of light and sound, neuroscientists have shown they can improve cognitive and memory impairments similar to those seen in Alzheimer's patients.
This noninvasive treatment, which works by inducing brain waves known as gamma oscillations, also greatly reduced the number of amyloid plaques found in the brains of these mice. Plaques were cleared in large swaths of the brain, including areas critical for cognitive functions such as learning and memory.
"When we combine visual and auditory stimulation for a week, we see the engagement of the prefrontal cortex and a very dramatic reduction of amyloid," says Li-Huei Tsai, director of MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the senior author of the study.
Further study will be needed, she says, to determine if this type of treatment will work in human patients. The researchers have already performed some preliminary safety tests of this type of stimulation in healthy human subjects.
MIT graduate student Anthony Martorell and Georgia Tech graduate student Abigail Paulson are the lead authors of the study, which appears in the March 14 issue of Cell.
The brain's neurons generate electrical signals that synchronize to form brain waves in several different frequency ranges. Previous studies have suggested that Alzheimer's patients have impairments of their gamma-frequency oscillations, which range from 25 to 80 hertz (cycles per second) and are believed to contribute to brain functions such as attention, perception, and memory.
In 2016, Tsai and her colleagues first reported the beneficial effects of restoring gamma oscillations in the brains of mice that are genetically predisposed to develop Alzheimer's symptoms. In that study, the researchers used light flickering at 40 hertz, delivered for one hour a day. They found that this treatment reduced levels of beta amyloid plaques and another Alzheimer's-related pathogenic marker, phosphorylated tau protein. The treatment also stimulated the activity of debris-clearing immune cells known as microglia.
In that study, the improvements generated by flickering light were limited to the visual cortex. In their new study, the researchers set out to explore whether they could reach other brain regions, such as those needed for learning and memory, using sound stimuli. They found that exposure to one hour of 40-hertz tones per day, for seven days, dramatically reduced the amount of beta amyloid in the auditory cortex (which processes sound) as well as the hippocampus, a key memory site that is located near the auditory cortex.
"What we have demonstrated here is that we can use a totally different sensory modality to induce gamma oscillations in the brain. And secondly, this auditory-stimulation-induced gamma can reduce amyloid and Tau pathology in not just the sensory cortex but also in the hippocampus," says Tsai, who is a founding member of MIT's Aging Brain Initiative.
The researchers also tested the effect of auditory stimulation on the mice's cognitive abilities. They found that after one week of treatment, the mice performed much better when navigating a maze requiring them to remember key landmarks. They were also better able to recognize objects they had previously encountered.
They also found that auditory treatment induced changes in not only microglia, but also the blood vessels, possibly facilitating the clearance of amyloid.
The researchers then decided to try combining the visual and auditory stimulation, and to their surprise, they found that this dual treatment had an even greater effect than either one alone. Amyloid plaques were reduced throughout a much greater portion of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, where higher cognitive functions take place. The microglia response was also much stronger.
"These microglia just pile on top of one another around the plaques," Tsai says. "It's very dramatic."
The researchers found that if they treated the mice for one week, then waited another week to perform the tests, many of the positive effects had faded, suggesting that the treatment would need to be given continually to maintain the benefits.
In an ongoing study, the researchers are now analyzing how gamma oscillations affect specific brain cell types, in hopes of discovering the molecular mechanisms behind the phenomena they have observed. Tsai says she also hopes to explore why the specific frequency they use, 40 hertz, has such a profound impact.
The combined visual and auditory treatment has already been tested in healthy volunteers, to assess its safety, and the researchers are now beginning to enroll patients with early-stage Alzheimer's to study its possible effects on the disease.
The research was funded, in part, by the Robert and Renee Belfer Family Foundation, the Halis Family Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the MIT Aging Brain Initiative.
March 12, 2019
Science Daily/National University of Singapore
Researchers found that seniors who consume more than two standard portions of mushrooms weekly may have 50 percent reduced odds of having mild cognitive impairment.
A team from the Department of Psychological Medicine and Department of Biochemistry at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has found that seniors who consume more than two standard portions of mushrooms weekly may have 50 per cent reduced odds of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
A portion was defined as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms with an average weight of around 150 grams. Two portions would be equivalent to approximately half a plate. While the portion sizes act as a guideline, it was shown that even one small portion of mushrooms a week may still be beneficial to reduce chances of MCI.
"This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline," said Assistant Professor Lei Feng, who is from the NUS Department of Psychological Medicine, and the lead author of this work.
The six-year study, which was conducted from 2011 to 2017, collected data from more than 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60 living in Singapore. The research was carried out with support from the Life Sciences Institute and the Mind Science Centre at NUS, as well as the Singapore Ministry of Health's National Medical Research Council. The results were published online in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease on 12 March 2019.
Determining MCI in seniors
MCI is typically viewed as the stage between the cognitive decline of normal ageing and the more serious decline of dementia. Seniors afflicted with MCI often display some form of memory loss or forgetfulness and may also show deficit on other cognitive function such as language, attention and visuospatial abilities. However, the changes can be subtle, as they do not experience disabling cognitive deficits that affect everyday life activities, which is characteristic of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
"People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these seniors had poorer performance on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background," explained Asst Prof Feng. "Neuropsychological tests are specifically designed tasks that can measure various aspects of a person's cognitive abilities. In fact, some of the tests we used in this study are adopted from commonly used IQ test battery, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS)."
As such, the researchers conducted extensive interviews and tests with the senior citizens to determine an accurate diagnosis. "The interview takes into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits. A nurse will measure blood pressure, weight, height, handgrip, and walking speed. They will also do a simple screen test on cognition, depression, anxiety," said Asst Prof Feng.
After this, a two-hour standard neuropsychological assessment was performed, along with a dementia rating. The overall results of these tests were discussed in depth with expert psychiatrists involved in the study to get a diagnostic consensus.
Mushrooms and cognitive impairment
Six commonly consumed mushrooms in Singapore were referenced in the study. They were golden, oyster, shiitake and white button mushrooms, as well as dried and canned mushrooms. However, it is likely that other mushrooms not referenced would also have beneficial effects.
The researchers believe the reason for the reduced prevalence of MCI in mushroom eaters may be down to a specific compound found in almost all varieties. "We're very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET)," said Dr Irwin Cheah, Senior Research Fellow at the NUS Department of Biochemistry. "ET is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesise on their own. But it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms."
An earlier study by the team on elderly Singaporeans revealed that plasma levels of ET in participants with MCI were significantly lower than age-matched healthy individuals. The work, which was published in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications in 2016, led to the belief that a deficiency in ET may be a risk factor for neurodegeneration, and increasing ET intake through mushroom consumption might possibly promote cognitive health.
Other compounds contained within mushrooms may also be advantageous for decreasing the risk of cognitive decline. Certain hericenones, erinacines, scabronines and dictyophorines may promote the synthesis of nerve growth factors. Bioactive compounds in mushrooms may also protect the brain from neurodegeneration by inhibiting production of beta amyloid and phosphorylated tau, and acetylcholinesterase.
The potential next stage of research for the team is to perform a randomised controlled trial with the pure compound of ET and other plant-based ingredients, such as L-theanine and catechins from tea leaves, to determine the efficacy of such phytonutrients in delaying cognitive decline. Such interventional studies will lead to more robust conclusion on causal relationship. In addition, Asst Prof Feng and his team also hope to identify other dietary factors that could be associated with healthy brain ageing and reduced risk of age-related conditions in the future.
February 25, 2019
Science Daily/University of Gothenburg
Keeping physically and mentally active in middle age may be tied to a lower risk of developing dementia decades later, according to a new study. Mental activities included reading, playing instruments, singing in a choir, visiting concerts, gardening, doing needlework or attending religious services.
"These results indicate that these activities in middle age may play a role in preventing dementia in old age and preserving cognitive health," said study author Jenna Najar, MD, from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
"It's exciting as these are activities that people can incorporate into their lives pretty easily and without a lot of expense."
The study involved 800 Swedish women with an average age of 47 who were followed for 44 years. At the beginning of the study, participants were asked about their mental and physical activities.
Mental activities included intellectual activities, such as reading and writing; artistic activities, such as going to a concert or singing in a choir; manual activities, such as needlework or gardening; club activities; and religious activity.
Participants were given scores in each of the five areas based on how often they participated in mental activities, with a score of zero for no or low activity, one for moderate activity and two for high activity. For example, moderate artistic activity was defined as attending a concert, play or art exhibit during the last six months, while high artistic activity was defined as more frequent visits, playing an instrument, singing in a choir or painting. The total score possible was 10.
Participants were divided into two groups. The low group, with 44 percent of participants, had scores of zero to two and the high group, with 56 percent of participants, had scores of three to 10.
For physical activity, participants were divided into two groups, active and inactive. The active group ranged from light physical activity such as walking, gardening, bowling or biking for a minimum of four hours per week to regular intense exercise such as running or swimming several times a week or engaging in competitive sports. A total of 17 percent of the participants were in the inactive group and 82 percent were in the active group.
During the study, 194 women developed dementia. Of those, 102 had Alzheimer's disease, 27 had vascular dementia and 41 had mixed dementia, which is when more than one type of dementia is present, such as the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer's disease along with the blood vessel changes seen in vascular dementia.
The study found that women with a high level of mental activities were 46 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and 34 percent less likely to develop dementia overall than the women with the low level of mental activities. The women who were physically active were 52 percent less likely to develop dementia with cerebrovascular disease and 56 percent less likely to develop mixed dementia than the women who were inactive.
The researchers took into account other factors that could affect the risk of dementia, such as high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes. They also ran the results again after excluding women who developed dementia about halfway through the study to rule out the possibility that those women may have been in the prodromal stage of dementia, with less participation in the activities as an early symptom. The results were similar, except that physical activity was then associated with a 34-percent reduced risk of dementia overall.
Of the 438 women with the high level of mental activity, 104 developed dementia, compared to 90 of the 347 women with the low level of activity. Of the 648 women with the high level of physical activity, 159 developed dementia, compared to 35 of the 137 women who were inactive.
Guest Post by: Jason Lewis
As adults enter their golden years, fostering physical, mental and emotional health becomes increasingly important. From finding an exercise routine and getting quality sleep to keeping your mind engaged and staying social, there are many ways seniors can improve their overall health and well-being. If you’re a senior who wants their golden years to be their best years, here are six tips to get you started:
1. Be physically active
The importance of exercise cannot be overstated. Walking, swimming, restorative yoga, or any other kind of exercise you enjoy comes with a slew of health benefits. For instance, it improves strength, flexibility, balance and coordination, all of which reduce the likelihood of injury from falls. Regular exercise can also help prevent diseases (e.g., heart disease, diabetes). Furthermore, “feel-good chemicals” like endorphinsare released during physical activity, and a steady routine can improve your overall cognitive function.
2. Ensure you’re insured
No matter how many steps you take to improve your health, it’s essential to have good insurance. And many seniors — even though they have insurance — do not have the coverage they need for adequate healthcare. Revisit your policies and make sure you have what you truly need. For example, Medicare Advantage plans (often called Medicare Part C) cover some areas not covered under Original Medicare, such as dental and vision care. Plans like those offered by Aetna make it easy for you or a loved one to learn more about Medicare Advantage and to find coveragethat may be more beneficial
3. Get sleep
Along with exercise and diet, sleep is one of the most essential aspects of living healthy. While sleep deprivationis common among all age groups, it’s particularly alarming for older adults. When your body and mind aren’t able to recover from the day, it can lead to a host of issues, including:
● Mental fogginess
● Greater anxiety
● More stress
● Higher risk of depression
● Weaker immune system
Many seniors struggle with falling and staying asleep. Coming up with a relaxing bedtime routine, removing distractions from the bedroom, limiting liquids at bedtime, avoiding heavy dinners, and exercise are all methods that can promote better sleep.
4. Engage your brain
It’s also important to regularly stimulate your mind. Puzzles, such as crossword and jigsaw puzzles, and games like bridge and chess are great for keeping your brain engaged. If you want to add a social element, start a weekly club where you invite people over for a night of card games.
5. Get out of the house
Some seniors stay cooped up in their home, which can easily lead to boredom and depression. If you are physically able, try to get outand do things every now and then. It could be volunteering for a local organization, going out of town to see grandchildren, checking off a bucket list item, or even trying a new type of cuisine. The important thing is that you experience a change of scenery and maybe get some sunshine.
6. Keep socializing
Finally, don’t give up your social life. It’s not uncommon for seniors to gradually withdraw as they age, but living in isolation is a quick way to end up lonely and depressed. Keep up with family, attending family gatherings as much you can. Reach out to old friends that you haven’t seen in a while. Stay open to meeting new people and forming new relationships.
You don’t have to just get by in your golden years; you can thrive. Find a solid exercise routine, make sure you have the insurance coverage you need, and prioritize quality sleep. Find games you enjoy that stimulate your mind, get out of the house every now and then, and maintain your social life. If you take your health and wellness seriously, you’ll be setting yourself up for your favorite years yet.
February 6, 2019
Science Daily/American Geriatrics Society
A research team designed a study to investigate the role depression symptoms play in an increased risk of death over time. The team also examined the role heart disease and stroke play in the link between depression symptoms and increased risk of death.
As we age, we become more likely to experience symptoms of depression. Research shows that depression's symptoms can be linked to a higher risk for death. Yet often, older adults' symptoms of depression may be missed by healthcare professionals.
What's more, symptoms of depression have been linked to heart disease and stroke in middle-aged and older adults. Researchers suggest that the depression-heart disease link could play a role in the increased risk of death among older adults who have symptoms of depression. There's also a known link between depression and deaths from cancer and falls in older adults. These connections might contribute to an increased risk of death for older adults, researchers suggest.
Since depression symptoms change over time, it's possible that studying those symptoms during an older adult's doctor visits could provide more information. To learn more, a research team designed a study to investigate the role depression symptoms play in an increased risk of death over time. The team also examined the role heart disease and stroke play in the link between depression symptoms and increased risk of death. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The researchers used information from the Three-City Study, a French study that investigated dementia, heart disease, and stroke in people aged 65 and older during five healthcare visits the participants made over 10 years.
At the start of the study, 16 percent of 9,294 participants had a history of heart disease. Most participants were around 73 years old; 37 percent were men.
About 23 percent of participants had symptoms of depression when the study began (28 percent of women and 13 percent of men). Almost 7 percent were taking medication for their depression. At three follow-up visits, the participants were tested again for symptoms of depression.
When the participants were monitored for depression symptoms at several visits over time, symptoms of depression were linked to an increased risk for death, including death from heart disease and stroke. However, those diseases explained only a small percentage of the deaths associated with depression symptoms over time.
The researchers said their study suggested that, for older adults living with depression, preventing heart disease may not be the only factor that will help prevent or delay death. Interestingly, antidepressants were not associated with an increased risk of death in this study.
January 29, 2019
Science Daily/North Carolina State University
Psychology researchers have found another reason that sleep, mood and stress are important: they affect the extent to which older adults feel they have control over their lives. The findings can inform efforts to improve an individual's sense of control, which has ramifications for physical, mental and emotional health.
"We found that sleep, mood and stress are all important factors in determining a sense of control and in whether older adults feel they can do the things they want to do," says Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. "This finding is important because when older adults begin to lose their sense of autonomy, it can lead to changes in behavior that adversely affect their health and well-being."
For this study, researchers evaluated data on 205 people between the ages of 60 and 94. Study participants provided information on a wide range of psychological variables on eight days across a period of three weeks.
The researchers focused on determining which variables, if any, had an effect on two "control beliefs": perceived competence, or an individual's sense that her or she could do the things they wanted to do; and locus of control, or sense that they were in control of their own lives. The researchers found that several variables have a significant effect on both beliefs.
"We found that sleep efficacy -- or the belief that one can get a good night's sleep -- was associated with better control beliefs," Neupert says.
"We also found that positive affect was good for an individual's control beliefs, while negative affect was bad," says Shenghao Zhang, a Ph.D. student at NC State and first author of the paper. "In other words, being in a good mood made people feel better about their competence and control, while being in a bad mood made people feel worse about those things.
"Lastly, we found that stressful events on one day had an adverse effect on an individual's subsequent control beliefs," Zhang says. "These results suggest that the adverse effect of stressful events can last for more than a day. It would be interesting to conduct additional work to determine how long the effects of stress resonate in regard to control beliefs."
"We know there are things people can do to improve their mood and to improve their sleep," Neupert says. "And while sleep and mood are things most people think are important, this study highlights a very specific reason that they are important.
"When people think they have little or no control in their lives, they may stop doing some of the everyday things that are important for self-care -- because they believe those things don't matter," Neupert says. "By acting to improve mood and sleep, older adults may better retain their sense of control and better maintain their quality of life."
The paper, "Predicting Control Beliefs in Older Adults: A Micro-longitudinal Study," is published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. Corresponding author of the paper is Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at NC State. The paper was co-authored by Alyssa Gamaldo, a former Ph.D. student at NC State who is now an assistant professor at Penn State University.
February 7, 2019
Science Daily/McMaster University
The benefits of exercise are widely known but kinesiologists have for the first time found that physical activity may help fight depression in seniors by stimulating muscle-generated mood boosters.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Physiology -- Cell Physiology, reveal that the underlying mechanisms which make us feel good when we exercise persist into old age and highlight the importance of staying active.
"A previous study demonstrated these mechanisms in healthy young adults, however, it was unknown whether the muscle deterioration which accompanies aging would preclude older adults from achieving similar exercise-induced benefits," explains David Allison, lead author on the study and a postdoctoral fellow in McMaster's Department of Kinesiology.
"This could have important implications concerning the use of exercise as a treatment or a preventative strategy for depression in seniors," he says.
Little is known about the relationship between skeletal muscle and mental health, or how exercise impacts this relationship.
Earlier research has shown that physical activity may help to 'turn on' genes within skeletal muscle which can then influence the key metabolic pathways that ultimately promote mood-enhancing chemicals, such as serotonin, within the brain.
Muscle loss is a common problem in the elderly which may restrict that pathway and therefore increase the risk for depression, says Allison.
For the study, a group of healthy men, aged 65 and over, followed a 12-week protocol of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on a stationary bike once a week combined with bi-weekly strength training sessions.
Researchers analyzed blood samples and changes to muscle and determined that three months of exercise was enough to enhance gene expression within the skeletal muscle.
"Even individuals who are already metabolically healthy -- with good weight, good blood pressure and blood sugar levels -- need to prioritize regular physical activity to maintain or improve upon their mental health," says Allison. "We have shown such benefits are still achievable in old age and further emphasize the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle."
In the future, researchers hope to explore the relationship between mental health and exercise among the clinically depressed to see if similar biochemical changes can be achieved.
Study first to use high-intensity interval exercise on obese individuals to test effects on cognitive dysfunction
Science Daily/December 10, 2018
Florida Atlantic University
Researchers have discovered what might be an effective strategy to prevent and combat cognitive dysfunction in obese individuals. They are the first to examine the modulatory role of an exercise-induced protein in the brain that promotes neuron survival and used high-intensity interval exercise (HIIE) in obese and normal-weight subjects. Obesity reduces the expression of this protein and lower levels are associated with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and obesity. HIIE upregulated this protein in the obese subjects compared to normal-weight subjects.
It's fast-paced, takes less time to do, and burns a lot of calories. High-intensity interval exercise is widely recognized as the most time-efficient and effective way to exercise. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Florida Atlantic University have discovered another important health benefit of these short bursts of intense exercise with rest intervals. It could also be an effective strategy to prevent and combat cognitive dysfunction in obese individuals.
Obesity reduces the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain that promotes the survival of nerve cells or neurons. Lower levels of this protein are associated with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and obesity. Although studies have shown that obesity is a risk factor for cognitive dysfunction, the mechanisms of this relationship are not fully understood.
To-date, studies on exercise and BDNF response in obese populations have only used continuous moderate-intensity exercise without rest intervals. FAU researchers and collaborators from the University of Texas at Austin and Purdue University, are the first to examine the modulatory role of obesity on exercise-induced BDNF release and to use an acute high-intensity interval exercise protocol as a practical model to measure the phenomena of BDNF release in both obese and normal-weight subjects. They also examined the potential relationship of exercise-induced BDNF with blood lactate and cortisol.
Results of study, published in the journal Experimental Biology and Medicine, show that the BDNF response to acute high-intensity interval exercise was greater than continuous moderate-intensity exercise in obese subjects when compared to normal-weight subjects. Similarly, although acute high-intensity interval exercise induced greater blood lactate and plasma cortisol levels than continuous moderate-intensity exercise, obese subjects produced less blood lactate, but showed no difference in cortisol than normal-weight subjects.
These findings suggest that acute high-intensity interval exercise may be a more effective protocol to upregulate BDNF expression in an obese population, independent of increased lactate and cortisol levels.
"High-intensity interval exercise is a time-efficient strategy with similar or superior physiological benefits that promotes the expression of a growth factor typically associated with brain health, yet that appears to be down regulated in obesity," said Chun-Jung (Phil) Huang, Ph.D., lead author and an associate professor in the Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory, Department of Exercise Science and Health Promotion, in FAU's College of Education. "The relative simplicity and efficacy of high-intensity interval exercise supports its use as a preventive measure and as an intervention to combat obesity and other chronic disease conditions."
For the study, male subjects participated in a counterbalanced and caloric equated experiment of high-intensity interval exercise. The high-intensity interval exercise protocol consisted of a five minute walking or jogging warm-up, followed by four high-intensity intervals lasting four minutes each, followed by three minutes of active recovery followed by each high-intensity interval. Blood samples were collected prior to, immediately following exercise, and an hour into recovery for measurements of serum BDNF, blood lactate, and plasma cortisol.
Other findings from the study show statistically significant differences between the obese and normal-weight groups for body weight, BMI, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and waist/hip circumferences and ratio. In addition, both the obese and normal-weight groups had comparable heart rate responses during both exercise protocols, demonstrating a similar relative exercise intensity and effort between groups. Therefore, the BDNF response was likely not influenced by disparities between aerobic fitness, with a greater level in obese subjects than normal-weight subjects following acute high-intensity interval exercise vs. continuous moderate-intensity exercise.
"Increased levels of cortisol have been shown to down regulate BDNF expression, however, this relationship in response to exercise still remains equivocal," Huang. "Specifically, our study and others, did not observe any correlation between cortisol and BDNF following either acute high-intensity exercise or continuous moderate-intensity exercise protocol, yet, the report of such is opposite."
Aerobic training has been shown to not only provide beneficial anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits, but also reductions in age-related cognitive decline. It also has been shown to preserve brain volume and potentially improve blood flow.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 93.3 million Americans were classified as obese in 2016. The annual medical costs of obesity were estimated at around $147 billion in 2008.
February 14, 2018
Science Daily/UT Southwestern Medical Center
Scientists have more evidence that exercise improves brain health and could be a lifesaving ingredient that prevents Alzheimer's disease.
In particular, a new study from UT Southwestern's O'Donnell Brain Institute suggests that the lower the fitness level, the faster the deterioration of vital nerve fibers in the brain. This deterioration results in cognitive decline, including memory issues characteristic of dementia patients.
"This research supports the hypothesis that improving people's fitness may improve their brain health and slow down the aging process," said Dr. Kan Ding, a neurologist from the Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute who authored the study.
The study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease focused on a type of brain tissue called white matter, which is composed of millions of bundles of nerve fibers used by neurons to communicate across the brain.
Dr. Ding's team enrolled older patients at high risk to develop Alzheimer's disease who have early signs of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The researchers determined that lower fitness levels were associated with weaker white matter, which in turn correlated with lower brain function.
Unlike previous studies that relied on study participants to assess their own fitness, the new research objectively measured cardiorespiratory fitness with a scientific formula called maximal oxygen uptake. Scientists also used brain imaging to measure the functionality of each patient's white matter.
Patients were then given memory and other cognitive tests to measure brain function, allowing scientists to establish strong correlations between exercise, brain health, and cognition.
The study adds to a growing body of evidence pointing to a simple yet crucial mandate for human health: Exercise regularly.
However, the study leaves plenty of unanswered questions about how fitness and Alzheimer's disease are intertwined. For instance, what fitness level is needed to notably reduce the risk of dementia? Is it too late to intervene when patients begin showing symptoms?
Some of these topics are already being researched through a five-year national clinical trial led by the O'Donnell Brain Institute.
The trial, which includes six medical centers across the country, aims to determine whether regular aerobic exercise and taking specific medications to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help preserve brain function. It involves more than 600 older adults at high risk to develop Alzheimer's disease.
"Evidence suggests that what is bad for your heart is bad for your brain. We need studies like this to find out how the two are intertwined and hopefully find the right formula to help prevent Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Rong Zhang of UT Southwestern, who oversees the clinical trial and is Director of the Cerebrovascular Laboratory in the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where the Dallas arm of the study is being carried out.
The research builds upon prior investigations linking healthy lifestyles to better brain function, including a 2013 study from Dr. Zhang's team that found neuronal messages are more efficiently relayed in the brains of older adults who exercise.
In addition, other teams at the O'Donnell Brain Institute are designing tests for the early detection of patients who will develop dementia, and seeking methods to slow or stop the spread of toxic proteins associated with the disease such as beta-amyloid and tau, which are blamed for destroying certain groups of neurons in the brain.
"A lot of work remains to better understand and treat dementia," said Dr. Ding, Assistant Professor of Neurology & Neurotherapeutics. "But, eventually, the hope is that our studies will convince people to exercise more."
April 18, 2016
Science Daily/University of Surrey
A new study involved the assessment of performance in participants being placed on 28-hour days to shift the sleep-wake cycle out of phase with the brain (circadian) clock. Performance was more affected in women than in men, the results show. Researchers warn that this study has significant implications for female nightshift workers such as nurses, security guards and police officers.
Researchers placed 16 male and 18 female participants on 28-hour days in a controlled environment without natural light-dark cycles, at the Surrey Clinical Research Centre. This effectively desynchronised the sleep-wake cycle from the brain's 24-hour (circadian) clock, similar to jet lag or a shiftwork scenario.
Every three hours during the awake period, participants performed a wide range of tests, including self-reported assessments of sleepiness, mood and effort, and objective tests of cognitive performance which included measures of attention, motor control and working memory. Brain electric activity (EEG) was monitored continuously during sleep. The results revealed that in both men and women self-reported assessments were more sensitive to the effects of time awake and circadian clock than the many objective measures of performance. However, crucially, the circadian effect on performance was significantly stronger in women than in men such that women were more cognitively impaired during the early morning hours, which in the real world typically coincides with the end of a night shift.
Co-author, Dr Nayantara Santhi from the University of Surrey, said, "We show for the first time that challenging the circadian clock affects the performance of men and women differently. Our research findings are significant in view of shiftwork-related cognitive deficits and changes in mood. Extrapolation of these results would suggest that women may be more affected by night-shift work than men."
Senior author, Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, continued, "These results show that in both men and women circadian rhythmicity affects brain function and that these effects differ between the sexes in a quantitative manner for some measures of brain function."
"Overall the findings illustrate how important it is to include both men and women in research studies and to use a wide range of subjective and objective indicators of brain function," added Professor Dijk.