The population of the world at large is increasingly becoming represented by older adults more than any other group. Alzheimer’s disease is a common affliction that may need more attention than it is getting because of this increase in the number of older adults. There are some positive indications that current research may be on track in finding detection methods for earlier diagnoses of the disease. Older adults fighting Alzheimer’s disease are willing adversaries armed with new research.
Two areas of focus are eye exams to detect changes in the retina and tracking a person’s sense of smell. Some biological changes in the lens of the eye and retina, and a sense of smell or lack thereof, may indicate minor memory changes that signal whether or not people develop Alzheimer’s. These finding were recently presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Most diagnoses of Alzheimer’s occurs through memory tests and questionnaires. Current research is delving into other possibilities of early detection, and using biological indicators may improve the discovery of early symptoms of the disease. Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain often commences decades in advance of memory indicators.
Early detection may be important for research objectives by finding candidates who are willing to participate in trials to monitor changes in the brain, and to follow the progression of Alzheimer’s. There are no treatments to halt Alzheimer’s, though many treatments are in various stages of development. When a treatment is available, there is hope people at greater risk may be given such a treatment before memory problems arise.
The protein amyloid clumps in the brain, and is also an indicator of Alzheimer’s. Brain imaging is being used to identify this pathology, but it is currently too expensive to use in a doctor’s office. However, it is also known that amyloid protein also deposits plaques in the eye. Non-invasive technology of eye-imaging correlates with amyloid deposits found on the brain with imaging scans, adding to the arsenal of possble new tools on the horizon in the fight against this disease.
Unfortunately, the correlation between brain imaging of amyloid deposits and amyloid plaque deposits in the eye is unclear and may prove to be a dead end. More research is needed for accurate predictions in this area. A full study of this associated link will be completed this year by Dr. Shaum Frost, a researcher from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency. Frost’s study is concerned with amyloid detection in the lens of the eye. A partner in this research is NeuroVision Imaging LLC, a Sacramento, California-based company that has been studying the retina, which is at the base of the eye.
The sense of smell is another area of interest. Those persons who are unable to detect different smells are possible candidates for Alzheimer’s early detection screening. A scratch-and-sniff test known as the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT) was administered to 1,000 individuals who were not diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease between 2004 to 2006. It was discovered that individuals in the study who displayed lower scores than normal had a more substantial risk of developing the disease.
One of the most positive aspects of recent studies illustrates that older adults who engage in playing games may increase their brain volume. Middle-aged persons who actively play games like chess, checkers, crossword puzzles or cards are more inclined to have larger brains than those individuals who do not play games. A recent study conducted by Dr. Laurel Coleman at the Maine Center for Geriatric Assessment established brain volume among game players to be higher in areas typically damaged by Alzheimer’s disease, demonstrating a potential for possibly delaying or avoiding the disease altogether.
In order to keep older adults brains pumped up, Coleman recommends a mix of activities, including learning to play a musical instrument, learning a different language and playing different kinds of stimulating games. Another activity mentioned at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference included incorporating exercise as part of a daily routine for older adults.
Older adults are those who are 60 years of age and older. Partaking in physical exercise assists in lowering other risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including diabetes, depression, smoking, mid-life hypertension and mid-life obesity. By reducing these risk factors by a minimum of 10 percent, close to nine million Alzheimer’s cases could be averted by 2050. Although there is a large and willing population of adversaries, fighting Alzheimer’s disease is still an uphill battle.
By Andy Towle