A recent Mayo Clinic study asked “Does Overeating Cause Memory Loss in Older People?” This is just too simple – isn’t it?!
This study looks to be like many of the studies ongoing with new technology enabling brain scans and better targeted cognitive tests – preliminary and giving only “suggestions” about causal relationships. It is indeed a slippery slope to identify the boundary between age related “mild cognitive impairment” and Alzheimer’s disease. A bigger question of course is what does “healthy aging” look like for the unprecedented numbers of people over age 80 that presently reside on the planet? There are also people (medical doctors) who question the whole categorization of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The National Institutes of Health fact sheet on Alzheimer’s disease offers the following:
“Scientists don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but it has become increasingly clear that it develops because of a complex series of events that take place in the brain over a long period of time. It is likely that the causes include some mix of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Because people differ in their genetic make-up and lifestyle, the importance of any one of these factors in increasing or decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s may differ from person to person.”
A recent study in the United Kingdom led to a discovery that in mice, certain proteins may block the progression of Alzheimer’s, particularly the toxic effect of the amyloid-beta protein. Read it here.
One of the tricky things about Alzheimer’s is that its progression is far from uniform (except in the case of younger onset, familial Alzheimer’s, which is most likely what the patient of Dr. Alzheimer suffered from) and people suffering from dementia often die from other causes. So don’t think that you can usually go into a neurologist’s or geriatrician’s office and get a conclusive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or staging of Alzheimer’s, an effective treatment or a cure for Alzheimer’s or many other types of dementia anytime soon.
Here’s a rather odd twist in the field of dementia and spirituality – which hasn’t been studied much. The original research article published by Amy Owen and colleagues at Duke University is entitled “Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Later Life,” which is available here. It is one of just a handful of studies about spirituality in later life. Several previous studies had indicated positive effects for elders, especially those suffering from dementia, who were part of a religious congregation or community. A Scientific American article by Andrew Newberg discusses the study in his article “Religious Experiences Shrink Part of the Brain,” and you can read the article posted May 31, 2011, here. It contains plenty of very interesting comments about the methodology, causality and other factors in the study and the conclusions that may be drawn from it.
Dementia and Baby Boomers – you don’t have to be old to suffer the ravages: “Dementia’s Youngest Victims Often Defy Stereotypes,” in USA Today online from March 23, 2012. Read it here.