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Dementia research and what we’re learning

Home » Health » Dementia research and what we’re learning

Dementia, such as Alzheimers, is of top concern for Canadians as they age and for their parents, especially those in their 50’s and dealing with aging parents. A recent study by Baycrest a teaching hospital in Toronto, found Canadians are unsure about available resources for them and their parents and find it difficult to get the right information.

The study also found that less than one in five people are confident about their knowledge in preventing dementia. One in four Canadians over 45 don’t know when to start taking steps to prevent dementia and only 16% of study respondents indicated having any type of plan ion place to deal with it.

“Almost 80 per cent of our long-term care residents are living with dementia. Through Baycrest’s ground-breaking research and innovations, compassionate care and renowned educational programs, we are striving to take critical steps forward in paving the way towards a dementia-free world, so we can all grow old without fear,” says Dr. William Reichman, President and CEO of Baycrest. “Our staff dream for a future where innovative solutions will provide the best care and where a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease will be met with hope.”

We’re also learning more about the impact of sleep on dementia. A study by Stanford University scientists, published in the journal JAMA Neurology, found both too much and too little sleep can impact cognitive health. They found sleeping less than six hours was associated with memory loss and an increase in beta-amyloid build up, the protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. But they also observed that sleep over nine hours per night was associated with worse executive function in the brain, that is, decision-making abilities and the ability to juggle multiple tasks.

Lead researcher Joseph R. Winer, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in neurology at Stanford University in California, noted, however, that sleeping nine hours or more was not associated with early markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

“While short sleepers had a pattern of cognitive test performance consistent with early Alzheimer’s disease, long sleepers performed worse on other tests, suggesting that short and long sleep may involve different underlying disease processes,” says Dr. Winer.

Another new medical breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research has shown the benefits of antioxidant intake. Research conducted by the Ph.D student Mohamed Raâfet Ben Khedher and the postdoctoral researcher Mohamed Haddad of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has shown that an oxidation-antioxidant imbalance in the blood is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, rather than a consequence.

The research team showed that oxidative markers, known to be involved in Alzheimer’s disease, show an increase up to five years before the onset of the disease. Unlike the current set of invasive and expensive tests used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, the oxidative markers discovered by Professor Ramassamy’s research team can be detected by a blood test. These markers are found in plasma extracellular vesicles, which are pockets released by all cells in the body, including those in the brain. “By identifying oxidative markers in the blood of individuals at risk five years before the onset of the disease, we could make recommendations to slow the onset of the disease and limit the risks”, Dr.Ramassamy noted. So, eat those blueberries!

Currently, around 500,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimers and a new report by Alzheimer’s Disease International, estimates that worldwide, about 75% of cases are undiagnosed. They’re also expecting a “tsunami of demand” in the Western world in coming years and Canada will be a part of that. Canada is estimated to have 60% of its cases going undiagnosed with a high proportion of them in low-income communities.

Currently, Alzheimers and other forms of dementia are largely done through non-biological testing, but clinical neurologist Dr. Serge Gauthier and professor at McGill University believes there will be more biological testing within about 5 years. “ Within five years, everyone who sees a doctor with dementia type of symptoms will have a blood test that’s nearly certain, or a spinal tap. So the next two to five years will be critical because, as we made breakthroughs in diagnosis and the cause of dementia, we need to have equivalent breakthroughs for treatment.”

Canada’s population is aging, with the Maritimes facing the most significant aging populations. Although Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are seeing net population growth, the risks remain high. And health systems in those provinces are in a crisis, not just due to the pandemic as they struggle to find doctors and fill nursing positions.

Earlier this year came the launch of a new Alzheimer’s treatment, called aducanumab, it is a novel therapy aimed at addressing the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease by targeting amyloid beta plaques in the brain. But as we reported earlier, it is proving very controversial.

We’re getting better at figuring out the causes and testing, but treatments are lagging at this time. If you’re in your late 40’s or early 50’s, now is the time to start thinking about a plan for not just yourself, but parents and other family members.

Discover More: Here’s our article on the controversy over the new Alzheimer’s medication.

Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash

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