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Study finds mix of disease processes at work in brains of most people with dementia

Contact: Linda Joy
nianews3@mail.nih.gov
301-496-1752
NIH/National Institute on Aging

Few older people die with brains untouched by a pathological process, however, an individual’s likelihood of having clinical signs of dementia increases with the number of different disease processes present in the brain, according to a new study. The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and conducted at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Julie Schneider, M.D., and colleagues report the findings in the journal Neurology online today.

Among their findings is the observation that the combination of Alzheimer’s disease and cerebral infarcts (strokes) is the most common mix of pathologies in the brains of people with dementia. The implication of these findings is that public health efforts to prevent and treat vascular disease could potentially reduce the occurrence of dementia, the researchers say in the paper.

The researchers used data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project—an ongoing study of 1,200 elderly volunteers who have agreed to be evaluated every year and to donate their brains upon death. The current study compared clinical and autopsy data on the first 141 participants who have died.

Annual physical and psychological exams showed that, while they were alive, 50 of the 141 had dementia. Upon death, a neuropathologist, who was unaware of the results of the clinical evaluation, analyzed each person’s brain. The autopsies showed that about 85 percent of the individuals had evidence of at least one chronic disease process, such as Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, hemorrhages, tumors, traumatic brain injury or others.

Comparison of the clinical and autopsy results showed that only 30 percent of people with signs of dementia had Alzheimer’s disease alone. By contrast, 42 percent of the people with dementia had Alzheimer’s disease with infarcts and 16 percent had Alzheimer’s disease with Parkinson’s disease (including two people with all three conditions). Infarcts alone caused another 12 percent of the cases. Also, 80 of the 141 volunteers who died had sufficient Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains to fulfill accepted neuropathologic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease, although in life only 47 were clinically diagnosed with probable or possible Alzheimer’s disease.

“We know that people can have Alzheimer’s pathology without having symptoms,” says Dallas Anderson, Ph.D., population studies program director in the NIA Neuroscience and Neuopsychology of Aging Program. “The finding that Alzheimer’s pathology with cerebral infarcts is a very common combination in people with dementia adds to emerging evidence that we might be able to reduce some of the risk of dementia with the same tools we use for cardiovascular disease such as control of blood cholesterol levels and hypertension.”

NIA is conducting clinical trials to determine whether interventions for cardiovascular disease can prevent or slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. On-going trials cover a range of interventions such as statin drugs, vitamins and exercise.

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NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older people, including Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. For information on dementia and aging, please visit NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center at http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers, or call 1-800-438-4380.

For more general information on research and aging, go to http://www.nia.nih.gov.

NIH—the nation’s medical research agency—includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

Rush University Medical Center media relations contact Kimberly Waterman can also arrange interviews with members of the research team. She can be reached at 312 942-7820 or kimberly_waterman@rush.edu.

Reference: JA Schneider et al. Mixed Brain Pathologies Account for Most Dementia Cases in Community-Dwelling Older Persons. Neurology (2007). DOI: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000271090.28148.24

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June 13, 2007 Posted by | Alberta, Alzheimers, Baltimore, Calgary, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, National Institute on Aging, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Jerusalem, News UK, News US, NIH, Research, Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Virginia, Washington DC, World News | Leave a comment

Can an omega-3 fatty acid slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease?

Contact: Linda Joy
nianews3@mail.nih.gov
301-496-1752
NIH/National Institute on Aging

Nutritionists have long endorsed fish as part of a heart-healthy diet, and now some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids found in the oil of certain fish may also benefit the brain by lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In order to test whether an omega-3 fatty acid can impact the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, will evaluate one in a clinical trial, the gold standard for medical research.

The study will be conducted nationwide by the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), a consortium of leading researchers supported by NIA and coordinated by the University of California, San Diego. The trial will take place at 51 sites across the United States and seeks 400 participants age 50 and older who have mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Joseph Quinn, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Oregon Health and Science University, is directing the study.

Researchers will be evaluating primarily whether the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), taken over many months, slows the progression of both cognitive and functional decline in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. During the 18-month clinical trial, investigators will measure the progress of the disease using standard tests for functional and cognitive change.

“The evidence to date in observational and animal studies on omega-3 fatty acids and Alzheimer’s disease warrants further evaluation in a rigorous clinical trial,” says NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “This study is one of a number we are undertaking in the next few years through the ADCS to test compounds that might play a role in preventing or delaying the symptoms of this devastating disease.”

“By participating in this study, volunteers will make an invaluable contribution to Alzheimer’s disease research progress,” says Quinn, the study’s principal investigator. “We are indebted to those who graciously volunteer to participate in clinical studies.”

The trial will use DHA donated by Martek Biosciences Corporation of Columbia, Md. Participants will receive either two grams of DHA per day or an inactive placebo pill. About 60 percent of participants will receive DHA, and 40 percent will get the placebo. Doctors and nurses at the 51 research clinic sites will monitor the participants in regular visits throughout the trial. To ensure unbiased results, neither the researchers conducting the trial nor the participants will know who is getting DHA and who is getting the placebo.

In addition to monitoring disease progression through cognitive tests, researchers will also evaluate whether taking DHA supplements has a positive effect on physical and biological markers of Alzheimer’s, such as brain atrophy and proteins in blood and spinal fluid.

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To learn how to participate in the study, contact NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center at 1-800-438-4380 or by email to adear@nia.nih.gov. To view a list of the research sites, go to http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers.

NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older people, including Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. For information on dementia and aging, please visit the NIA’s ADEAR Center at http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers, or call 1-800-438-4380. For more general information on research and aging, go to http://www.nia.nih.gov.

NIH–the nation’s medical research agency–includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

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May 10, 2007 Posted by | Alzheimers, Autism, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, National Institute on Aging, omega-3 fatty acids, Uncategorized | Leave a comment