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Highlights from the annual Alzheimer’s Conference: television and dementia

Today we present some highlights from the Alzheimer’s Association Annual Conference held the week of July 18 in Washington, D.C.

Alzheimer’s has proved to be a very difficult disease to treat, and the drug treatment results have been disappointing. The brain damage in Alzheimer’s is believed to be due to the accumulation of two different substances in the brain: scar or plaque-like areas of beta-amyloid protein and tangles of a protein called tau. Treatment strategies have been focused on reducing these two substances, which are believed to choke off normal brain cells.

Early diagnosis

There is currently no test to diagnose Alzheimer’s in its earlier stages. It is known that the brain damage in dementia may begin up to 20 years before a person shows symptoms, and that early treatment might prevent the build-up of beta-amyloid and tau protein. Researchers from the University of Alberta (Canada) presented good results from a simple diagnostic saliva test, but it will be several more years to know if this method really works.

Prevention (and TV viewing)

Researchers from the Northern California Institute for Research and Education presented the results of a 25-year study of over 3000 adults who were 18 to 30 years old when the study began. The results showed a significant association between TV viewing and the level of physical activity and the later appearance of dementia.

Adults who watched more than 4 hours of television per day had a 50% higher risk of performing poorly on mental testing later in the study, and people who both watched more than 4 hours of TV and did not exercise had a double risk of developing poor mental function later in middle age.

Better than medications

There are medications approved to help treat dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, but they are not very effective, and no clear advances in medications were presented at the conference. One drug, aducanumab, was hailed earlier this year as significantly slowing brain function decline, but the side effects (including brain swelling) were too strong, so more work is being done on lower doses.

But three studies were presented which showed that regular aerobic exercise will help slow the onset of dementia, and even improve mental speed and attention in patients who already have mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. These patients participated in a fairly vigorous aerobic program —3 to 4 workouts per week, each lasting 45 to 60 minutes. The participants worked fairly hard (70 to 80 % of their capacity) to show these positive results. Notably, these improvements seen with exercise were “better than seen with any current approved medication”.

Gender differences

It has been known for some time that women are more susceptible to dementia. One study measured the rate of mental decline in men and women. The results confirmed that women, when affected by Alzheimer’s, suffer a drop in mental functioning faster than men. The researchers do not know why, but this study highlights the importance of the one proven thing that will help dementia— aerobic exercise at least several times a week. Given the gender differences, aerobic exercise might be even more important for women than for men.

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See also in ProcuraMed:

Some brain functions continue to improve later in life

Six ways to keep your brain stimulated

Highlights from the annual Alzheimer’s Conference: television and dementia was last modified: July 4th, 2016 by

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