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With Increase in Elderly Population, there will be rise in Dementia: Study

The World Health Organization estimates that close to 50 million people have been diagnosed with dementia, with more than half living in low- and middle-income countries

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Higher education to reduce risk of dementia, research suggests
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US, Dec 29, 2016: As the elderly population continues to grow globally, the number of people who will suffer from dementia also will increase. The question is, by how much?

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The World Health Organization estimates that close to 50 million people have been diagnosed with dementia, with more than half living in low- and middle-income countries.

Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of aging. As researchers find out more about the causes of dementia, they are also finding ways they can help reduce its prevalence.

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For example, numerous studies show that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. Physical activity and a healthy diet keep the heart pumping and blood flowing to the brain. Good blood flow keeps the brain functioning, and has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia.

Brains shrink with age, but studies cited by the Alzheimer’s Society of the U.K. showed that aerobic exercise not only increases the heart rate, but also enlarges the hippocampus, the key area of the brain involved in memory. In one study, a year of aerobic exercise by older adults proved to be the equivalent of reversing one to two years of age-related shrinkage.

Researchers also have found a link between higher education and a reduction in dementia. Studies continue to look at the way exercise, diet, social and mental stimulation, and other factors influence the development of dementia, Alzheimer’s being the most common form of this disease.

Dr. Kenneth Langa at the University of Michigan focuses his research on dementia. He was the co-investigator of a study of 20,000 adults in the United States over a 12-year period, and was the lead investigator of a supplemental study on the risk factors and prevalence of dementia in this group.

“We found that the prevalence of dementia declined significantly between 2000 and 2012, from about 11.5 percent down to about 9 percent,” Langa said.

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Langa attributes the decline in dementia to better treatments for high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity — treatments that keep the cardiovascular system healthy and lower incidents of stroke. He also says increases in education levels play a role.

In the U.S., education levels rose over the past two decades, according to data gathered by Langa. A larger percentage of people graduated from high school, and more people received college educations. Langa’s study showed that even a slight increase in the level of education seems to have an impact in reducing the risk of dementia.

“This suggests that a 75-year-old today has a lower risk of having dementia today than a 75-year-old 10 or 20 years ago,” he said.

But the numbers were still significant because of the large number of older adults.

“What we found was that for adults in the United States, ages 65 and older, about 3 to 5 percent of them who were 65 to 74 had dementia, and that went up to almost 30 percent for those who are 85 and older,” Larga said. “So almost one in three had dementia in our study.”

Even without a breakthrough in treatment, Langa says it appears there are things that can decrease the risk. However, he says, more work needs to be done to keep dementia trends declining.

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Scientists Discover A New Method To Fight Alzheimer’s, Dementia

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer's or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

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Alzheimer's
One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease. VOA
Eliminating dead-but-toxic cells occurring naturally in the brains of mice designed to mimic Alzheimer’s slowed neuron damage and memory loss associated with the disease, according to a study published Wednesday that could open a new front in the fight against dementia.The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals.

Scientists have long known that these dead-beat cells gather in regions of the brain linked to old age diseases ranging from osteoarthritis and atherosclerosis to Parkinson’s and dementia.

Prior research had also shown that the elimination of senescent cells in ageing mice extended their healthy lifespan.

But the new results, published in Nature, are the first to demonstrate a cause-and-effect link with a specific disease, Alzheimer’s, the scientists said.

Alzheimer's
A lady suffering from Alzheimer’s. Flickr

But any treatments that might emerge from the research are many years down the road, they cautioned.

In experiments, a team led by Tyler Bussian of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota used mice genetically modified to produce the destructive, cobweb-like tangles of tau protein that form in the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients.

The mice were also programmed to allow for the elimination of “zombie” cells in the same region.

“When senescent cells were removed, we found that the diseased animals retained the ability to form memories, and eliminated signs of inflammation,” said senior author Darren Baker, also from the Mayo Clinic.

The mice likewise failed to develop Alzheimer’s signature protein “tangles”, and retained normal brain mass.

 

Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s disease patient Isidora Tomaz, 82, sits in an armchair in her house in Lisbon, Portugal. It’s predicted that by 2050, 135 million Americans are going to suffer from mild cognitive impairment, a precursor of Alzheimer’s. VOA

Keeping zombies at bay

A closer look revealed that the “zombies” belonged to a class of cells in the brain and spinal cord, called glia, that provide crucial support and insulation to neurons.

“Preventing the build-up of senescent glia can block the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration normally experienced by these mice,” Jay Penney and Li-Huei Tsai, both from MIT, wrote in a comment, also in Nature.

Bussian and his team duplicated the results with pharmaceuticals, suggesting that drugs could one day slow or block the emergence of Alzheimer’s by keeping these zombie cells at bay.

“There hasn’t been a new dementia drug in 15 years, so it’s exciting to see the results of this promising study in mice,” said James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society in London.

 

Alzheimer's
The accumulation in the body of “zombie cells” that can no longer divide but still cause harm to other healthy cells, a process called senescence, is common to all mammals. IANS

For Lawrence Rajendran, deputy director of the Dementia Research Institute at King’s College London, the findings “open up new vistas for both diagnosis and therapy for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.”

Up to now, dementia research has been mostly focused on the diseased neurons rather than their neighboring cells.

“It is increasingly becoming clear that other brains cells play a defining role,” Rajendran added.

Several barriers remain before the breakthrough can be translated into a “safe, effective treatment in people,” Pickett and other said.

The elderly often have lots of harmless brain cells that look like the dangerous senescent cells a drug would target, so the molecule would have to be good at telling the two apart.

Also Read: Common Painkillers Triple Harmful Side Effects in Dementia

Worldwide, about seven percent of people over 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, a percentage that rises to 40 percent above the age of 85.

The number afflicted is expected to triple by 2050 to 152 million, according to the World Health Organization, posing a huge challenge to healthcare systems. (VOA)