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Memory And Thinking Problems Decline Among Older Americans

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A new US study suggests that brain health is improving among older Americans as demonstrated by a decline in thinking and memory problems in this group. The
researchers said improved cardiovascular care, better education, and being financially better off could be the main reasons.

The researchers found that:

  • About 40 per cent of the decrease in cognitive impairment over the decade ending in 2002 was likely due to increases in education and personal wealth.
    They found this by comparing two groups of seniors, one at the start of the decade and one at the end.
  • School attendance requirements, graduation rates in high school, enrollment rates in college or technical school, all went up in the period when the
    adults in the study were children and young adults.
  • 72 per cent of people aged over 65 living in 2003 had a high school diploma compared with 53 per cent in 1990.
  • The proportion of college-educated elderly also went up during that time, from 11 to 17 per cent.
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    Brain Activity Might Point to Early Alzheimer’s


    A team at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of 13 patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease, 34 patients with mild cognitive impairment, and 28 healthy people (averaging about 73 years of age) as they did a memory task.

    A specific pattern of brain activity could be a sign of early Alzheimer’s disease, U.S. researchers report.

    They noted that as new treatments for Alzheimer’s become available, spotting the disease early will become critical.

    A team at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of 13 patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease, 34 patients with mild cognitive impairment, and 28 healthy people (averaging about 73 years of age) as they did a memory task.

    Participants with mild Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment showed impaired activity in the medial temporal lobe (MTL), an area of the brain associated with episodic memory that normally turns on during a memory task. Previous research had found that structural changes in the MTL are among the earliest known brain changes in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

    More surprisingly, the researchers found impaired deactivation in the posteromedial cortex (PMC), a brain area involved in personal memory that’s usually suppressed during a memory task. The degree of PMC deactivation was closely related to the level of a patient’s memory impairment and significantly correlated with their neuropsychological testing scores.

    “In other words, the brain not only loses its ability to turn on in certain regions, but also loses its ability to turn off in other regions, and the latter may be a more sensitive marker. These findings give us insight into how the brain’s memory networks break down, remodel and finally fail as memory impairment ensues,” study lead author Dr. Jeffrey R. Petrella, an associate professor of radiology at Duke, said in a prepared statement.

    He said the findings “implicate a potential functional, rather than structural, brain maker — separate from atrophy — that may help enhance diagnosis and treatment monitoring of Alzheimer’s patients.”

    The study is published in the October issue of the journal Radiology.

    More information

    The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation has more about Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

    Source Health Day, U.S. News

     
     
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