The information found under this tab reflects current updates and research about Alzheimer’s. The material has been consolidated to focus on important facts using simple language. This makes it easier to understand and emphasizes the urgency of finding a cure.
ALZ updates: NEUROPLASTICITY AND DEMENTIA
Neuroplasticity is not ‘new’. Knowledge of how neurons are ‘wired to fire’ has been around since the late 1940s. Since the 1970s with new technology, there’ve been amazing observations of the flexibility of neurons to create and strengthen existing neural pathways in the brain.
From the beginning of life neurons grow. With each addition of physical or mental ability, dendrites and synapse are added. An athlete, poet, singer or scientist develops specific muscles and abilities. The more the brain is exercised the better it becomes. To develop or improve any skill it takes time and practice. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare?
An obvious example of neuroplasticity is blindness. In the absence of sight, neurons fire and rewire to adjust the other senses. After a stroke or an accident, depending on the damage, with regular rehabilitation work, new brain connections are made.
In the last several years there’s been a revival of the 1960s food pyramid and basic exercise routines. Today there’s more emphasis on how diet & exercise. With the addition of social engagement and an increase in cognitive activity, the idea is to challenge the brain.
Anyone remember President Kennedy’s Fitness Challenge of the 1960s? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUnxrCcQQv0
Neuroplasticity’s connection to dementia is the ability of brain neurons to develop new synapse connections. With encouragement, neurons can rewire themselves to try something new. This is possible at any age. Younger cells are more dynamic, adult cells a bit slower…but change can happen.
When we learn something new, change a habit or a belief we challenge ourselves mentally and physically. The chemical make-up of the brain is changed. Who memorized the Gettysburg Address in school? Everyone finds a way to do it, it can be done. The brain can be trained .
That’s where neuroplasticity and dementia connect. It’s not a quick fix and it won’t stop progression, but it builds self-esteem and encourages accomplishments. There’re documented studies that show changes in the structure of the hippocampus when new knowledge is added.
At any age, challenge yourself…start with something you like. It’s easier to stay focused if you like what you do. The arts, creative hobbies, physical exercise even a good card game. Once that’s going, keep an open mind. Dabble in learning a new language, ask questions. There’s no need to be perfect. The ability to play the piano may have changed but the ability to make new synapse connections is still there! Stay social, interact with others. The act of talking comes from the brain. The act of ‘doing’ forms connections.
It’s impossible only if our mind says so. Motivation is a big part of neuroplasticity and memory.
Learn something new each day!
A NEW BOOKING:
Has brought attention to expand education needs for all. The Alzheimer’s Association is prepared to help guide the LGBT community also.
Visit: https://www.alz.org/media/Documents/lgbt-dementia-issues-brief.pdf for ‘Brief Issues’ as a first step. This and other links will be posted on our Resources page under Alzheimer’s Update tab.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Definitions for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) vary from simple to clinical. The Alzheimer’s Association says:
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Why is it called Alzheimer’s?
The disease is named for Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer, or Alois for short. He was a neurologist practicing in Germany beginning in the 1890s. In 1901 he observed severe senile dementia behavior from a 51, year old female patient. Since the observations of her case, the terms plaques and tangles have been part of AD research for over 100 years.
Today, advances in MRI and PET scan imaging technology enables a more accurate diagnosis of specific dementias. This is important, so the most beneficial treatment can be planned.
Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is different than treatment for Parkinson’s. Both produce memory issues but for different reasons. With a more effective diagnosis’s a more effective treatment can begin. The two diseases don’t necessarily use the same medications.
Presently, FDA approved drugs most commonly prescribed for early stage Alzheimer’s are Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne, all cholinesterase inhibitors and Namenda, a memantine.
Their scientific make up is too involved to describe here. Simply said, they slow down the progression of memory loss and confusion in the early stages of AD. They are not a cure.
When administered after an AD diagnosis, in the early stages of the disease, symptoms can be slowed. Why is this important? As the progression of AD is reduced, it allows the patient and family time.
Time to accomplish several things. Depending on age, to continue to work. To build new relationships with family, support groups and doctors. To review financial and legal concerns and to participate in research trials. Also, to become an advocate for AD research and care partner education.
This site and blog will present current information, encourage others to share ideas ‘that work’, help address problems and provide the latest updates in a simple and relatable language.