A free teleconference series offered by UsAgainstAlzheimer's Network covering a wide range of topics with leaders in the Alzheimer's community.
For our final Alzheimer’s Talks call for 2016, we were honored to have Dr. Laura Baker join us to discuss her research on the impact of aerobic exercise on Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss, and to provide details of a new study she is conducting called the EXERT trial.
Dr. Baker is Associate Professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, and Associate Director of the new Wake Forest Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Dr. Baker is a nationally recognized leader on the topic of aerobic exercise as a treatment for memory decline associated with pre-clinical and early stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are a few key highlights from the call:
"Sedentary" is the new smoking
Our nation has moved towards a more sedentary lifestyle, for example sitting at desks or in front of the television for hours, and increased reliance on driving to get from one place to another. We’re seeing negative health impacts that are similar to those associated with smoking on the heart, blood vessels, and maybe even the brain.
Exercise may be medicine for the brain
The results of animal studies provide strong support for health-restoring effects of aerobic exercise in the brain. In previous, smaller-scale human studies, Dr. Baker and her team have showed that as little as six months of aerobic exercise improved memory and thinking abilities, volume and resting blood flow in the brain. The next step in this area of research will be to determine whether aerobic exercise can slow progression of memory loss and prevent the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Finding the right prescription
Previous research has led Dr. Baker to believe that regular exercise may have an anti-Alzheimer’s effect. She is working with Dr. Carl Cotman of the University of California-Irvine, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study of the University of California-San Diego to conduct a large clinical trial to test the effects of 2 different doses of exercise on memory and thinking and other measures of brain health.
The EXERT trial
The EXERT trial is currently enrolling participants in thirteen cities across the country. Participants must be sedentary, between the age of 65 and 89, and have a mild memory impairment. The study is a randomized, controlled, clinical trial. Therefore, some participants will be assigned to the stretching-balance-range of motion group and others will be assigned high dose aerobic exercise group for eighteen months. Both groups will be supervised by YMCA personal trainers.
Thank you to Dr. Laura Baker for discussing her research. If you missed the talk, or would like to hear it again, you can listen to the recording. Please consider signing up if you are eligible – the sooner the study is enrolled, the sooner we will know the impact of aerobic exercise on brain health and the prevention of Alzheimer's disease dementia.
For this Alzheimer’s Talks, we were honored to have Dr. Rudy Tanzi share with us his fascinating new work on a microbial hypothesis of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Tanzi is the Vice Chair of Neurology and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. He was chosen by the Geoffrey Beene Foundation as a ‘Rock Star of Science’ and is a Founding Member of our ResearchersAgainstAlzheimer’s network.
What is this microbial hypothesis?
It postulates that microbial pathogens can rapidly induce amyloid plaques deposition as a defense mechanism of the brain’s innate immune system. Inflammation is triggered by amyloid accumulating in the brain and also a reaction of the brain’s innate immune system to protect itself from pathogens.
Could amyloid be accumulating in the brain as a defense response?
As we get older our blood-brain barrier starts to break down, our adaptive immunity starts to become a little less strong, and microbial pathogens can build up. His research has shown that brains with amyloid in them from Alzheimer’s patients had more antimicrobial activity than brains without amyloid and that beta amyloid is antimicrobial and does help fight infection.
Next steps and possible treatment
Dr. Tanzi’s next work, the Brain Microbiome Project, funded by Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and Open Philanthropy, is to test in humans the hypothesis that the reason we have amyloid build-up is that over decades small amounts of low-grade infections and microbes are sneaking into the brain and triggering amyloid. By isolating the plaques and sequencing the RNA they can determine whether there are common pathogens that drive the amyloid build-up, and find a treatment to target those pathogens.
Thanks to Dr. Rudy Tanzi for sharing this fascinating theory and research. Listen to the recording or read the transcript for the full conversation, including whether he thinks we will have a disease-modifying treatment in the next 5 years and how vitamins and diet can help.
Don’t miss the next Alzheimer’s Talks on the EXERT study of exercise. Sign up now!
For the September Alzheimer’s Talks, we were honored to welcome Teepa Snow, a respected dementia and Alzheimer’s care expert with a background in occupational therapy and over thirty-five years of experience in clinical practice. Through her Positive Approach® to Brain Change, Teepa helps family members, friends, caregivers, and professionals build skills to be a better care partner.
A few key highlights:
Caregivers should not try to do this alone.
Find someone who can support you and give you a break. It is hard to be creative and empathetic when you are exhausted and hurting. Caregiving is a team approach, and should never be tackled alone.
Empathy and creativity make the difference.
Remember, you can’t fix the person with dementia because their brain is damaged. You will both be frustrated. Locate the person’s strengths or find out what the person cares most about, in order to “find the light in the darkness.”
People with dementia need meaningful activity every day.
“We figured out ways to make life livable until life wasn’t present.” Find opportunities for someone with Alzheimer’s to be themselves within their limitations. Look for three types of activities to engage: those that provide a sense of value and purpose; those that lead to moments of joy every day; and physical activities and brain activities that use whatever remains.
She also gave advice on many challenging scenarios and discussed the two most common questions that she receives: What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? And why is it that he/she does those things?
Thank you to Teepa Snow for talking about ways to cope with dementia and caregiving. If you missed the talk – or if you’d like to hear it again – you can listen to an audio playback, read the transcript of our conversation, or check it out on Storify.
We look forward to having you join the next Alzheimer’s Talks on October 17 with Dr. Rudy Tanzi. Click here to sign up.
Dr. Jeffrey Iliff spoke with George Vradenburg for the August Alzheimer’s Talks. Dr. Iliff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and he was part of a team that discovered a critical brain-cleansing system. During this discussion he outlined his research on how sleep helps clear waste from the brain and how sleep and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s might be connected. We also discussed useful tips that we can all use to improve our sleep and brain health.
A few key highlights:
We need good sleep to clean out our brains.
While you’re sleeping, your brain is very active, cycling through REM sleep and slow-wave sleep. One of the critical activities during sleep is processing memories – converting short-term memories to long-term memory storage. During slow-wave sleep, the glymphatic system in the brain is also sweeping out the debris that accumulates through the course of the day.
Poor sleeping appears to be linked to Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Iliff says there is a clear association between sleep disruption and the development of Alzheimer’s pathology. Also, this glymphatic system appears to slow with age. In the future, imaging techniques may help scientists measure the cleaning function to better understand how it works and see if it can be modified.
It could be a vicious cycle.
Having Alzheimer’s could disrupt the parts of the brain that control sleep, and lead to poor sleeping cycles. But, poor sleep could prevent brain cleaning and contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. Scientists need more research to determine which way the association runs, or if it runs both ways.
Tips for better sleep!
Sleep, like cardiovascular health, may be one of the things you can control, to possibly reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Dr. Iliff shared some recommendations to get quality sleep. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, maintain a quiet sleep environment, and “unplug” from screens at least an hour before bed.
Thank you to Dr. Iliff for describing his research and answering questions. If you missed the talk – or if you’d like to hear it again – you can listen to an audio playback or read the transcript of our conversation. Dr. Iliff answered a lot of interesting questions during the discussion, including whether naps count, and the impact of sleep medication.
And if you missed the live tweets, check out the discussion of this call on Storify!
Dr. Robert Rissman was our guest for the July Alzheimer’s Talks where he spoke about his research on the relationship between chronic stress and Alzheimer’s disease and his work to develop a biomarker for Alzheimer’s and prevent cognitive decline.
Dr. Rissman is Associate Professor of Neurosciences at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Biomarker Core Director for the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study at UCSD, and neuropathology core director for the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s disease research center.
A few key highlights:
Animal models show stress plays an important role in development of Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Rissman’s work looks at how the brains of mice change during stress and how there could be changes in Alzheimer’s related pathways after stress.
They found that emotional stressors relate directly to changes in a protein in the brain, called tau that is central to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. His team also identified a peptide in the brain, called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), which plays an important role in regulating those tau changes. Specifically, there is one type of a CRF receptor that regulates a stress-induced increase in tau.
Research leads to development of potential drugs to stop Alzheimer’s
Dr. Rissman’s work in mice shows that drugs that impact the CRF system could be used to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by preventing neurofibrillary tangles. By giving the drug for five months, before the mice developed full-blown pathology, he was able to prevent the cognitive decline and greatly reduce the levels of beta amyloid plaque, though more research is needed.
Stress comes in many forms
Stress can be from external or internal sources. Having Alzheimer’s disease is an example of an internal, physiological condition that puts stress on the brain and leads to cellular change. External stress, especially chronic, long-term stress, can also induce changes in the brain and may make you more susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s.
Biomarkers in our future
In a just released separate study Dr. Rissman is looking for novel biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. He identified microvesicles, which could predict what individuals transitioned from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease - which could lead to the development of a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease.
Thank you to Dr. Rissman for describing his research and answering questions. If you missed the talk – or if you’d like to hear it again – you can listen to an audio playback or read the transcript for all the details of our conversation on stress and Alzheimer’s disease.
And check out the discussion Storified!
I hope that you can join us next month on Tuesday, August 16th from 4 – 5pm Eastern with Dr. Jeffrey Iliff who will discuss his groundbreaking research on the connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Click here to register.