Dementia: Reduce your risk by staying active

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Sarah Shair, MA, research associate at the MADC

At a recent outreach event, I asked people to name something they could do to reduce their risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The most common answer that I received was, “do crossword puzzles.”

While crossword puzzles and other brain games are great for your mind, another important and effective way to reduce your risk of dementia is with physical activity. Numerous research studies have linked regular physical activity to a reduced risk of experiencing cognitive decline and developing dementia.

How does it work?
Use it or lose it! As we age, our brains tend to shrink. Physical exercise, however, counteracts this process and actually enables our brains to grow new neurons. In fact, brain imaging studies comparing the brains of active versus inactive adults have found the brains of active adults are larger, especially in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory. Continue reading

Your Brain on Meditation

There has been a growth in meditation research around the globe in the past five years, including a handful of studies investigating the impact of meditation on adults living with mild cognitive impairment and family caregivers of adults with Alzheimer’s disease.  These studies are of great interest to us at the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center  as we consider the long-term impact of sustained stress on family caregivers and adults living with a diagnosis of dementia.brain meditation

One recent study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical school revealed new insights into the minds’ powerful influence on regulating the nervous system through simple meditation practices. The study, , indicated changes in the physical structure of the brain, through brain imaging, after only a few short weeks of simple meditation practice.

Brain imaging, like functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, is giving us new insights into meditation practices that have long been recognized to improve mood and sleep, reduce pain and enhance stress resilience, to name a few. The brain imaging results show evidence of neural growth and an increase in grey matter in the brain, the matter that gathers information and passes along sensory information.

Research outcomes are also demonstrating how brief meditation may continue to soften perceived stress and the experience of pain even while someone is not meditating. There is reason to believe that mediation can have a long-term impact on emotional and cognitive wellness.

We are not the first University of Michigan department to implement meditation practice and mindfulness based programming, but we are excited to be the first in the State of Michigan to offer Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as an intervention for dementia care and caregiver wellbeing.

Aware Care, an 8-week MBSR course, will be offered this fall for caregivers of an adult living with a dementia as well as adults diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment. For information, please call U-M Memory Connection at 734-936-8803 or visit our website.

 


MADC logoThe Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) was established at the University of Michigan Health System, through affiliation with the Department of Neurology and aims to conduct and promote research on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders; ensure state-of-the-art care for individuals experiencing cognitive impairment or dementia; and enhance the public’s and health professionals’ understanding of dementia through education and outreach efforts. The infrastructure of the Center stems from a 20 year history as an NIH-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

 

UMHS logoFor more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.

Your Journey: Road Sign Tips for Living with Memory Loss or Dementia

“To get through the hardest journey we need to take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.”  – Chinese Proverb

As we get older, changes in memory or thinking can alter our planned path in life.  A new journey may need to be considered.  Your Journey: Road Sign Tips for Living with Memory Loss or Dementia was developed to inspire creative planning along the memory loss or dementia journey.  Whether you are a person experiencing memory loss, a family caregiver or a healthcare professional, your journey begins in the driver’s seat.  Follow these suggested road signs to help you take an active role in understanding and adapting to the bumps in the road that may lie ahead.  Take it one step at a time, but don’t forget to “refuel” by gathering resources along your journey.  Help yourself and others prepare and plan for this new path in life.

image - Tips for living with memory loss or dementia Continue reading

Lighter. Stronger. Clearer. Closer.

Self-care for the caregiver

I have been gifted by the presence of many caregivers and adults living with dementia over the past 18 years.

They have taught me something about living that has become the message of my work and the meaning of my service as a social worker – and that is to live lighter, stronger, clearer and closer.

Laura Rice-Oeschger, LMSW, progam lead for Catching Your Breath at the MADC.

Laura Rice-Oeschger, LMSW is head of the Catch Your Breath Program at MADC.

A care partner I know said it best, “It doesn’t all suck.

I have learned that joy and grief are strange

bedfellows.  When we see them clearly, when we recognize both of them and invite them into our hearts fully, we receive an unexpected gift. And while caregiving can be stressful, there are also moments for joy, laughter and love to exist. When this happens it is a sense of whole-body wellness, the body feels lighter, the heart stronger, the mind clearer and our relationships closerContinue reading

Green Tea and Its Effects on Alzheimer’s

BLOG-AlzJune-2013I often get boxes of green tea as a welcoming gift from visiting scientists. Occasionally, I sample these fine teas, however, a recent study makes me realize that perhaps I should be drinking more of it.

MADC affiliate Dr. Mi Hee Lim and her colleagues recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that a flavonoid found in green tea, called ECGC, binds and changes the property of beta-amyloid, a toxic protein that accumulates in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

The question that guided Dr. Lim’s research was “Why does green tea extract have anti-amyloid properties?”

To answer her question, she used an array of biochemical and cell biological approaches. The outcome of Dr. Lim’s studies show that ECGC can bind beta-amyloid monomers (a protein by itself) and dimers (two proteins bound together), particularly when calcium or zinc is present. When ECGC and beta-amyloid bind together, beta-amyloid is less likely to form into the large, ordered fibrils that eventually comprise the brain plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease. Beta-amyloid can take on many shapes, but ECGC seems to force the beta-amyloid into a single shape. More importantly, ECGC was able to reduce the toxicity of beta-amyloid in cells, suggesting that this single shape, or structure, may be less toxic than other forms of beta-amyloid.

So, what does this mean for our understanding of Alzheimer’s and the discovery of better therapies?

First, green tea extract by itself is probably not potent enough to represent a potential therapeutic compound. You should still go ahead and drink it, but know that the levels of ECGC in your body will be far lower, and less powerful, than the levels used in this study. Second, the new knowledge about how flavonoids bind beta-amyloid and alter its properties represents a key starting point toward the development of similar compounds that do the same thing, just in a stronger way. Finally, Dr. Lim’s discovery that this compound forces beta-amyloid into a distinct, simpler structure sheds light on the complexity of beta-amyloid behavior, reminding us that we still have much more to learn about beta-amyloid and its effects on our brain.

Visit the MADC website to find other research studies the Center is working on.

 


MADC logoThe Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) was established at the University of Michigan Health System, through affiliation with the Department of Neurology and aims to conduct and promote research on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders; ensure state-of-the-art care for individuals experiencing cognitive impairment or dementia; and enhance the public’s and health professionals’ understanding of dementia through education and outreach efforts. The infrastructure of the Center stems from a 20 year history as an NIH-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

 

UMHS logoFor more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including 18 years on the U.S. News & World Report honor roll of “America’s Best Hospitals.”