How much should seniors exercise to improve brain function?

To boost their reasoning skills and the brain’s processing speed, seniors may need to exercise for 52 hours over a period of 6 months, concludes a new study. The good news is that low-intensity exercise such as walking has the same benefits — as long as it’s carried out for this length of time.

As more and more research keeps pointing out, exercise does wonders for our brain.

For instance, a recent study that Medical News Today reported on shows that running protects our memory from the harmful effects of stress.

Full story at Medical News Today

Breakdown of brain’s visual networks linked to mental illness

Individual regions of the brain have to team up to get things done. And like in any team, the key to working together is communication.

Duke researchers used brain imaging to identify how patterns of brain connectivity — the ability of different brain regions to talk to each other — can affect a person’s likelihood of developing common forms of mental illness.

Surprisingly, they found that brain regions that help process what we see may play a key role in mental health. The results show that a person’s risk of mental illness broadly increases when the visual cortex has trouble communicating with brain networks responsible for focus and introspection.

Full story at Science Daily

An Advance Directive for Patients With Dementia

I had hoped that by now most adults in this country would have completed an advance directive for medical care and assigned someone they trusted to represent their wishes if and when they are unable to speak for themselves. Alas, at last count, barely more than one-third have done so, with the rest of Americans leaving it up to the medical profession and ill-prepared family members to decide when and how to provide life-prolonging treatments.

But even the many who, like me, have done due diligence — completed the appropriate forms, selected a health care agent and expressed their wishes to whoever may have to make medical decisions for them — may not realize that the documents typically do not cover a likely scenario for one of the leading causes of death in this country: dementia. Missing in standard documents, for example, are specific instructions about providing food and drink by hand as opposed to through a tube.

Advanced dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is the sixth leading cause of death overall in the United States. It is the fifth leading cause for people over 65, and the third for those over 85. Yet once the disease approaches its terminal stages, patients are unable to communicate their desires for or against life-prolonging therapies, some of which can actually make their last days more painful and hasten their demise.

Full story at the New York Times

Dementia trend shows later onset with fewer years of the disease

The diagnosis is one that a family never wants to hear: Your father has Alzheimer’s disease. Your mother has stroke-related dementia.

A recently released study, included in a special supplement to the Journal of Gerontology, indicates that dementia’s impact might be compressing a bit. That is, people might be developing dementia later and living with it for a shorter period of time.

Sudha Seshadri, M.D., professor of neurology and founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio, is the senior author on the study, which draws evidence from the Framingham Heart Study.

Full story at Science Daily

Social isolation puts elderly at health risk

One in five elderly adults is socially isolated from family or friends, increasing their risks for poor mental and physical health, as well as higher rates of mortality, according to a University of Michigan study.

U-M researchers investigated several factors impacting social isolation from family and friends within a national sample of more than 1,300 older African-Americans, black Caribbeans and whites. Study participants were aged 55 and older during the data collection from 2001 to 2003.

Overall, most elderly were connected to both family and friends (77 percent), while 11 percent were isolated from friends only and 7 percent were isolated from family members only. Of concern, however, were the 5 percent of elderly who were socially isolated from both family and friends, which may place them at risk for physical and mental health problems, the researchers say.

Full story at Medical Xpress

Eye could provide ‘window to the brain’ after stroke

Research into curious bright spots in the eyes on stroke patients’ brain images could one day alter the way these individuals are assessed and treated. A team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health found that a chemical routinely given to stroke patients undergoing brain scans can leak into their eyes, highlighting those areas and potentially providing insight into their strokes. The study was published in Neurology.

“We were kind of astounded by this — it’s a very unrecognized phenomenon,” said Richard Leigh, M.D., an assistant clinical investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the paper’s senior author. “It raises the question of whether there is something we can observe in the eye that would help clinicians evaluate the severity of a stroke and guide us on how best to help patients.”

Full story at Science Daily

Human Rights Watch Finds Nursing Homes Overmedicate Dementia Patients

Nursing homes in the U.S. are administering antipsychotic drugs to tens of thousands of elderly residents each week who do not have the diagnoses for which the drugs are prescribed and who are not giving their “free and informed consent,” according to a new Human Rights Watch report.

In a report released Monday titled, “They Want Docile,” the group states that some 179,000 residents of long-term nursing homes across the country are given antipsychotic drugs each week that are not appropriate for their condition. The report says the drugs are used for their sedating side effects, which make patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease easier to manage.

“People with dementia are often sedated to make life easier for overworked nursing home staff, and the government does little to protect vulnerable residents from such abuse,” Hannah Flamm, a New York University law school fellow at Human Rights Watch told The Guardian.

Full story at US News

Viruses that infect bacteria abound in bladder

Phages — viruses that infect bacteria — are abundant in the bacteria that inhabit the female bladder. This is good news, because phage could be used as alternative treatment when antibiotics become resistant to pathogenic bacteria. The research is reported this week in the Journal of Bacteriology, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology.

“Phage have been used as an alternative to antibiotics for decades in eastern European countries, particularly for treatment of urinary tract infections,” said corresponding author Catherine Putonti, PhD, Associate Professor of Bioinformatics, Loyola University, Chicago. “This first step in the characterization of the phages already present within the bladder has the potential to identify candidates for subsequent phage therapy clinical studies for urinary symptom treatment.”

The investigators examined 181 bacterial genomes taken from the female urinary microbiome, which Dr. Putonti said were representative of that microbiome’s phylogenetic diversity.

Full story at Science Daily

Commonalities in brains of people with Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease

A new study strongly suggests that the brains of people who have died of Huntington’s disease (HD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD) show a similar response to a lifetime of neurodegeneration, despite being two very distinct diseases.

The findings, which appear in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, found that most of the genes perturbed in brains from both diseases are related to the same immune response and inflammatory pathways. Inflammation in the central nervous system has recently been shown to play a role in a number of different neurodegenerative diseases, including HD and PD, but this is the first direct comparison of these two distinct diseases.

Brains of individuals who died with Huntington’s, Parkinson’s or no neurological condition were analyzed using sequencing technology that provides a data readout of the activity of all genes in the genome. By comparing the data from the different groups, the researchers identified which genes show differences in their activity. By organizing and interpreting these genes, the researchers found an overall pattern of commonality between the two diseases. According to the researchers, the hypothesis that the brain experiences a similar response to disparate neurodegenerative diseases has exciting clinical implications. “These findings suggest that a common therapy might be developed to help mitigate the effects of different neurodegenerative diseases of the central nervous system” explained corresponding author Adam Labadorf, PhD, Director of the BU Bioinformatics Hub.

Full story at Science Daily

Caffeine level in blood may help diagnose people with Parkinson’s disease

Testing the level of caffeine in the blood may provide a simple way to aid the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study published in the January 3, 2018, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study found that people with Parkinson’s disease had significantly lower levels of caffeine in their blood than people without the disease, even if they consumed the same amount of caffeine.

“Previous studies have shown a link between caffeine and a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, but we haven’t known much about how caffeine metabolizes within the people with the disease,” said study author Shinji Saiki, MD, PhD, of Juntendo University School of Medicine in Tokyo, Japan.

Full story at Science Daily