mm221: The dread disease we all hope to catch: Old age

MUDGE’S Musings

It is always interesting to see how stories hit from different directions, and yet form a pattern startling in its similarity of topic. So it was when, while dining in the company cafeteria today accompanied by my trusty companion, Business Week, I encountered an article that grabbed my attention as I leafed by in search of something else.

The topic: Alzheimer’s disease. I pulled it out of the magazine, the better to locate on line, see below.

While scanning the NYTimes somewhat later, this story jumped out. The relationship is obvious — Alzheimer’s. The Times speculates on prevention; BW speculates on its origins, in search of treatment or cure. Take a look:

nytimes

Mental Reserves Keep Brains Agile

By JANE E. BRODY

My husband, at 74, is the baby of his bridge group, which includes a woman of 85 and a man of 89. This challenging game demands an excellent memory (for bids, cards played, rules and so on) and an ability to think strategically and read subtle psychological cues. Never having had a head for cards, I continue to be amazed by the mental agility of these septua- and octogenarians.

The brain, like every other part of the body, changes with age, and those changes can impede clear thinking and memory. Yet many older people seem to remain sharp as a tack well into their 80s and beyond. Although their pace may have slowed, they continue to work, travel, attend plays and concerts, play cards and board games, study foreign languages, design buildings, work with computers, write books, do puzzles, knit or perform other mentally challenging tasks that can befuddle people much younger.

But when these sharp old folks die, autopsy studies often reveal extensive brain abnormalities like those in patients with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas and Yaakov Stern at Columbia University Medical Center recall that in 1988, a study of “cognitively normal elderly women” showed that they had “advanced Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains at death.” Later studies indicated that up to two-thirds of people with autopsy findings of Alzheimer’s disease were cognitively intact when they died.

Alzheimer’s doesn’t automatically cause the impairment we’ve always presumed it universally does? How strange!

“Something must account for the disjunction between the degree of brain damage and its outcome,” the Columbia scientists deduced. And that something, they and others suggest, is “cognitive reserve.”

Cognitive reserve, in this theory, refers to the brain’s ability to develop and maintain extra neurons and connections between them via axons and dendrites. Later in life, these connections may help compensate for the rise in dementia-related brain pathology that accompanies normal aging.

Sounds like MUDGE has got to get out and get some of that cognitive reserve. Think Target carries it? Or Neiman Marcus?

No, you guessed it, cognitive reserve is home made, not bought.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Memory – Aging – Medicine & Health – New York Times

This will never do — actually changing sedentary habits. Let’s look for a magic bullet instead:

bw_255x65

Is Alzheimer’s a Form of Diabetes?

If so, an insulin-centered treatment could alter the course of the disease

by Catherine Arnst

Scientists have been searching for the cause of Alzheimer’s disease for more than 100 years, and during that time, theories about why brain cells are destroyed in the course of the illness have come and gone. One of the newer and more unorthodox theories posits that Alzheimer’s may actually be a form of diabetes. Some experts have even taken to calling the brain disease type 3 diabetes, as distinct from the insulin-dependent (type 1) and adult-onset (type 2) varieties of the condition.

The diabetes hypothesis stems from growing evidence that cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims are resistant to insulin; just as in diabetes, the cells don’t respond appropriately to this hormone. As a result, neurons are deprived of glucose, which they need for energy. As the evidence mounts, the type 3 label is gaining currency in Alzheimer’s research circles and is drawing attention from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies are testing existing diabetes drugs against Alzheimer’s, while startup Acumen Pharmaceuticals, in partnership with Merck (MRK), is focusing on molecules that allow insulin to reach brain cells.

This is absolutely stunning: suddenly Alzheimer’s might not be mysterious; it may operate according to long-understood mechanisms, like diabetes. While there is no cure for diabetes, there are treatments that are quite effective. Imagine adapting such pharmaceuticals to work in the insulin resistant areas of the Alzheimer’s brain.

A research team led by neurobiologist William L. Klein at Northwestern University came up with more supporting evidence for the type 3 diabetes theory in September, 2007. Klein, a founder of Acumen, discovered that a toxic protein called ADDL damages insulin receptors on the surface of brain cells, rendering them less responsive to the hormone.

Seems that type 3 diabetes might be as controllable as type 2, which long has drawn the continued attention of pharmaceutical science.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Is Alzheimer’s a Form of Diabetes?

Approaching a stupendous birthday, with a mother and mother-in-law 80 years old and above, concerns about aging are certainly more immediate to this writer than before.

And, thanks to the fact that I’m part of a very large cohort of similarly aged population, researchers have come to recognize like never before the profit potential of science directed toward the ailments of the elderly.

Couldn’t be happening at a better time. By the way, do you think that daily blogging is sufficiently challenging brain stimulation?

MUDGE is certainly hoping so!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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3 Responses to mm221: The dread disease we all hope to catch: Old age

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