Thursday, October 4, 2012

Heads up for a healthier brain at seniors' health, wellness expo

 Robin Hall, public education coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of Lanark County, stands before her booth at the recent Seniors Health and Wellness Expo at the Civitan Club hall in Perth on Thursday, Sept. 27. Robin Hall, public education coordinator for the Alzheimer Society of Lanark County, stands before her booth at the recent Seniors Health and Wellness Expo at the Civitan Club hall in Perth on Thursday, Sept. 27.

EMC Events - We all have to give our heads a shake to realize that dementia is a growing problem.

This past summer, the Alzheimer Society predicted that, in less than 30 years, one in five people in eastern Ontario will have Alzheimer's or some manner of dementia.

"Quite often, they don't know where to turn," said Robin Hall the public education coordinator for the Alzheimer's Society of Lanark County. "This is an age-related disease we're dealing with," she said, pointing to the aging population, and the fact that, after age 80, incidents of dementia go up.

Other groups are also seeing incidents of dementia on the rise, like people with Down's syndrome, since they too are now living longer.

That's why she helped set up the first-ever Seniors' Health and Wellness Expo, which attracted more than 30 vendors to the Perth Civitan Club hall on Thursday, Sept. 27, and brought together various health and seniors' agencies, so that people with dementia, and those who love and look after them, know where they can turn.

"Often, it is getting the help in the home," said Hall. "My caregivers tend to take on too much."

A husband looking after a wife, or vice versa, comes with its own form of caregiver burnout.

"'Til death do us part,' especially with seniors," said Hall.

While she might sound like a broken record, she admits, she frequently finds herself saying, "You're no good to your loved one if you're sick yourself."

One of the frustrations in Hall's job is contending with conflicting information to be found online, through social media, and from well-meaning friends and neighbours.

"It's frustrating when they come into my office with hope in their eyes," said Hall. "I heard that if I take this, my brain will get better," she remembers of one heart-wrenching conversation, while others contend that vitamins and minerals alone will remedy dementia.

"The jury is still out on vitamins," said Hall. "They're grasping at straws."

The event is loosely based on the seniors' expo run in Almonte last month.

Hall herself was an exhibitor at the Almonte and District Community Centre, and found that, in talking with other vendors, she got a sudden, last-minute deluge of people wanting to take part in her event in Perth.

While it is important to keep one's brain active, through activities like memory games, "getting people to exercise their brain" too much activity can also be detrimental.

"We're in a generation where we do 10 things at once," said Hall, who pleads guilty to this as well, even answering emails on her BlackBerry after minor surgery a few weeks ago when she should have been recuperating instead. This too can have an effect, and Hall urges people to reduce their stress levels.

 Krystal Blanchette of the Parkside Inn and Spa, Perth, gives M.J. Warren a hand massage at the Seniors Health and Wellness Expo at the Civitan Club hall in Perth on Thursday, Sept. 27. Krystal Blanchette of the Parkside Inn and Spa, Perth, gives M.J. Warren a hand massage at the Seniors Health and Wellness Expo at the Civitan Club hall in Perth on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Is Digital Technology Warping Your Brain?

Is digital technology warping your brain? Maybe so. Or at least it is changing your brain.

In a recent article in the New York Times, “Your Brain on E-Books and Smartphone Apps,” Nick Bilton confesses that his brain is being shaped by his frequent use of electronic media for reading. Here’s how his confession begins:

Last week, my brain played a cruel trick on me. While waiting for my flight to take off, I was reading The New Yorker, the paper version, of course — I know the rules. I became engrossed in an article and swiped my finger down the glossy page to read more.
To my surprise, nothing happened. I swiped it again. Nothing.
My brain was trying to turn the page the same way I do on my iPad, with the swipe of a finger. (I quickly realized that I had to physically turn the page.)
I don’t think I’ve tried to swipe a magazine yet, but I can imagine doing so before too long.
Why is this? Bilton explains:

I called the closest thing to a technology doctor I know: Clifford Nass, a professor of cognitive science and communications at Stanford University, and the author of “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships.”
“Brains love habits; brains are built for efficiency,” Mr. Nass said, noting that I wasn’t sick, maybe just a little too technological for my own good. “Our brains are built to put two things together in space and time and then say, ‘Great, I can remember that these go together.’ Then we execute on that, like you trying to scroll down a piece of paper with your finger.”
When I read this, I started to remember similar instances in my life, ones that had nothing to do with technology. I remember a time in high school, for example, when I had recently broken up with a girlfriend. On a Saturday evening, I had a date with another girl, but I drove to my old girlfriend’s house and walked up to the door. Yikes! (I caught myself just before knocking and ran away. I never asked if I had been spotted.)
More recently, my wife and I decided to swap two drawers in our kitchen. It would be more convenient for the knife drawer to be where the silverware drawer had been, and vice versa. So we made the change.
Then, for about three weeks, I consistently opened the wrong drawer. My mind had been conditioned to think in a certain way, and it took a while for me to get used to the new normal.

Bilton doesn’t actually argue that digital technology is warping your brain. But he does point out that it is shaping the way we think in fundamental ways. I certainly have to wonder how all of this will impact that thinking of children who grow up in a “swipe-ful” world, not to mention those of us who grew up thinking that “to swipe” meant to steal something.

Alzheimer's May Be Result Of Natural Anti-Cancer Mechanism

Scientists have discovered a natural mechanism the body uses to protect against cancer could be the reason brain cells in people with Alzheimer's disease deteriorate so rapidly. They hope their discovery will (for the first time) offer a target for treating the disease.

"Aging is the main risk factor for Alzheimer's disease," they write in an article about their work which appeared online in the 12 September issue of the open access journal PLoS ONE.

However, we know little about which aspects of the aging process make the brain susceptible to the development of Alzheimer's, they add.

In their paper, Claudio Torres of Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, and colleagues, show for the first time, how brain cells of people with Alzheimer's "senesce": a mechanism where as a result of accumulated DNA damage, cells stop dividing and doing their usual work, and start producing toxic proteins instead.

The older we are, the more times the cells in our bodies have replicated. However, with each replication cycle, there is some DNA damage, so each generation of cells accumulates more DNA damage, until it is so great, there is a high chance they will go out of control and start forming a tumor. The body has evolved mechanisms to protect itself against that.

One such mechanism the body has acquired for protecting against the risks of accumulated DNA damage is to trigger "apoptosis" or cell suicide, allowing affected cells to die off and be mopped up by the immune system. This is often seen in cells that replicate continually, such as those of skin, lung and kidney.

But not all DNA-damaged cells go down the cell suicide route: some of them go down another path known as "senescence", where biological changes stop the cells dividing and carrying out their normal fuctions, and switch them into making toxic proteins instead.

There is some evidence that this process also triggers inflammation.

Senescence has a different effect on the immune system to apoptosis: it causes it to carry out a damage-limitation exercise and destroy nearby cells that might be affected by the toxins.

Judith Campisi of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, who was not involved in the study, told New Scientist magazine that it was "pretty clear" that senescence evolved as an anti-cancer mechanism.

However, what evolution has produced may have been helpful when human life expectancy was shorter, but it becomes counter-productive once that age threshold is past, because by not dying off, those senescent cells can continue to produce toxins that produce inflammation.

It was wondering about this problem that caused Torres and colleagues to propose that perhaps senescent cells are what causes inflammation in Alzheimer's disease.

So for their study, they simulated the effects of aging by exposing brain cells to hydrogen peroxide (this produces a metabolic stress similar to that caused by aging) and observed what happened. They found the cells stopped dividing, started expressing genes associated with senescence, and secreting large quantities of inflammatory protein.

The cells that were doing this weren't neurons, the cells that carry out the mental functions of the brain (they tend not to replicate), but astrocytes, a group of star-shaped cells that make up about 80 to 90% of the brain. Astrocytes support neurons by doing vital work like clearing away the beta-amyloid plaques that are characteristic of Alzheimer's.

Torres and colleagues carried out their experiment in brain samples from fetuses, from people aged 35 to 50, and from people aged 78 to 90.

They found healthy brains from people over 35 had up to 8 times more senescent cells than fetuses.

And they also found that in healthy brains of 80 and 90 year-olds, up to 30% of astrocytes had gone down the senescence route. But in people with Alzheimer's, this figure was about 10% higher.

They propose that an accumulation of senescent astrocytes "may link increased age and increased risk for sporadic Alzheimer's disease".

According to New Scientist, Torres says their study provides a new way to look at Alzheimer's, and it might also shed light on other neurodegenerative diseases for which age is a risk factor.

But he does not advise preventing senescence altogether as a way forward: it is a natural mechanism against cancer. Instead, perhaps targeting damaged cells is an option:

"If we can clear senescent cells, then we can probably clear Alzheimer's," he suggests.

Being outside may boost brain performance

ELBA, Minn. (KTTC) -- If someone tells you to take a hike, that might just be a good idea.  A new study shows being outside may just boost your brain performance.

It's certainly relaxing being among nature. But what if that time outside is actually helping your brain?

People may turn to the outdoors for a number of reasons.

"Came down for the day, doing a little hiking and I think I'll have a little picnic later on just to replenish myself," said Steve Wampler of Rochester.

But being active may be doing even more good than you think. A new study done by the University of Utah put this to the test. Dr. David Strayer tested the creative thinking skills of people on a four day backpacking trip. The professor found a 50 percent jump in creativity for the people who were on the trip compared to those that weren't.

"It's like a vacation you're totally away from everything and when the colors are like this, there's hardly any wind, no bugs, it's pristine," said Wampler.

Professor Strayer went on to say that on a hike, you are more aware of your surroundings and your brain becomes more active.

"You forget about everything else except the here and now which means that you are forgetting everything else that is in your life," said Wampler.

"Relaxes, the smells, pushing your feet through the leaves," said Deb Kronebusch. "It's a nice feeling."

But even if you don't have three or four days to go on a hike, just being outside away from the technology that surrounds us now seems to just do something to the mind.

Smoking befogs brain post stroke

MONTREAL: Smoking post a stroke erodes the brain’s capacity to solve problems, decision-making and memory, a study says.

The study by Hamilton General Hospital, Canada, tested mental abilities of 76 patients, including 12 smokers, with an average age of 67.5 years, using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) tool.

The MoCA exam tests patients with memory and problem solving questions and gives them a score out of 30. Smokers had a median MoCA score two points lower than non-smokers — 22 out of 30 compared to 24 out of 30.

Patients who had previously quit smoking achieved the same scores as lifetime non-smokers, said Gail MacKenzie, clinical nurse specialist at Hamilton General Hospital, Canada.

“This research emphasizes the importance of smoking cessation for people with stroke or TIA,” said MacKenzie.

TIA, or transient ischemic attack, is a mini stroke and often serves as a warning sign that a bigger stroke is imminent, according to a Hamilton statement.

Ketamine can help improve brain function in Rett syndrome mice

A promising study out today in the prestigious Journal of Neurosciences showed that in a mouse model of Rett syndrome, researchers were able to reverse abnormalities in brain activity and improve neurological function by treating the animals with an FDA-approved anesthesia drug, ketamine. Rett syndrome is among the most severe autism-related disorders, affecting about one in 10,000 female births per year, with no effective treatments available.

"These studies provide new evidence that drug treatment can reverse abnormalities in brain function in Rett syndrome mice," says David Katz, PhD, professor of neurosciences, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and senior author of the study. "They also provide new leads as to what kinds of drugs might be effective in individuals with Rett syndrome."

Neuroscientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine were able to successfully map differences in the brain activity of normal mice and those with a genetic mutation that mirrors the cause of Rett syndrome in humans. They found that - compared to normal mice - Rett syndrome mice showed regions of abnormally low activity in the front of the brain (forebrain) and regions of abnormally high activity in the back of the brain (brainstem). Importantly, they found that the regions of low activity overlap with regions of the brain that are also under-active in humans with classic autism. This indicates there may be common mechanisms underlying abnormal behaviors in the two diseases.

The identification of these brain regions provided clues into specific areas to target for treatment. Based on previously published findings that ketamine activated neurons in the forebrain, the researchers gave the drug to the Rett syndrome mice and found it increased levels of brain activity in those regions and improved neurological function. Importantly, the drug was effective at a low dose that did not produce anesthesia.

Katz strongly cautioned that, because ketamine can have potent anesthetic effects and is a controlled substance, further work is needed to establish the safety of ketamine in patients with Rett syndrome.

Moreover, ketamine has never been used to treat a chronic condition, and additional studies are required to determine whether or not this is feasible and safe. However, safer drugs acting in the same pathways as ketamine may be available.

Unlike most disorders on the autism spectrum, researchers know the cause of Rett syndrome - a genetic change on the X chromosome, which helps explain why it affects girls almost exclusively. Families don't usually know if a newborn has Rett syndrome because affected children can appear normal for the first six to 18 months after birth. Then, parents start to notice the infant losing the ability to speak, move, eat or even breathe normally. Many girls with Rett syndrome can live into adulthood and are so disabled that they require round-the-clock care.

One in 88 Americans is affected by an autism-related disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Those affected by Rett syndrome can lose - to varying degrees - the ability for normal human interaction. They can be socially withdrawn, struggle to communicate and tend to engage in repetitive behaviors - all hallmarks of disorders that fall within the autism spectrum.

‘Brain-eating amoeba’ claims another life

KARACHI, Oct 3: The death of a young man caused by waterborne Naegleria meningitis has heightened concerns about the quality of water people consume in the city.

A staffer at the infection control section of the Liaquat National Hospital on Wednesday said that a 24-year-old man brought to the LNH with complaints of high-grade fever, headache, vomiting and drowsiness had died of Naegleria fowleri on Tuesday.

Despite efforts by senior physicians, the patient died after two days of his admission to the hospital, the said, adding that he had learnt that the Naegleria causing primary amoebic meningitis (PAM) in humans was a disease which had a fatality rate of over 99 per cent.

Since May, seven people, manly young men, have died of Naegleria fowleri or PAM in the city.

According to experts, the organism was discovered in Australia in the middle of the 1960s, but probably has been infecting humans for centuries and is now being termed ‘brain-eating amoeba’.

Dr Afia Zafar of the Aga Khan University Hospital said Naegleria was commonly found in warm fresh water. Only one species, naegleria fowleri, infected people when water containing the amoeba entered the body through the nose and travelled up to the brain, where it destroyed brain tissues.

Of the seven deaths reported by the provincial health authorities, only one had a history of swimming in a public pool. The ages of the deceased, all men, ranged from 22 to 49 years.

Talking to Dawn the younger brother of the deceased, Uzair Khan, said his brother, a computer engineering graduate, was serving a private firm.

“After returning home from work, my brother used to go to the playground and then back to home and did nothing else. He had no chance of exposure to water, including that of recreational swimming pool, but contracted the disease either at home or work,” he said, adding that the situation was alarming and the health and civic agencies should look into the matter seriously.The young man living in Block 13 of Federal B Area complained of feeling uneasiness on Friday night, following which he was taken to a nearby private hospital which sent him home with medicines for fever and painkillers.

However, the next morning his condition aggravated and he was rushed to the LNH on Saturday and was put on ventilator for a while. Laboratory reports received on Monday confirmed that he was a naegleria patient.

Talking about the cases of naegleria reported in the city this year, Dr Faisal Mamhood, an infectious diseases expert at a private university hospital, said the absence of swimming history in the deceased certainly gave reasons to consider the quality of water consumed by people across the city. “We must ensure proper chlorination of water as has been mentioned in various researches,” he said, adding that dust was also considered to be a source of spread of the amoeba.

Replying to another question, Dr Mahmood said the exact cause of the infection and deaths in different countries during the last many years could not be ascertained as the patients did not survive, leaving little room for undertaking a detailed exercise or retrospective study.

Talking about the earlier cases of Naegleria, the city’s executive district officer for health, Dr Imdadullah Siddiqui, said samples from various swimming pools were taken a couple of months back, but nothing “disturbing” was found. He added that samples were drawn from different water pumping stations operated by the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board also, but only a few of them were found lacking the standard level of chlorine.

Replying to a question, he said the KWSB and owner of swimming pools and other water reservoirs should maintain chlorination of water up to the mark.

Aspirin may 'slow elderly brain decline', study finds

Could taking an aspirin a day slow brain power decline?
Aspirin tablets
An aspirin a day may slow brain decline in elderly women at high risk of cardiovascular disease, research finds.

Around 500 at risk women, between the ages of 70 to 92, were tracked for five years - their mental capacity was tested at the start and end of the study.

Those taking aspirin for the entire period saw their test scores fall much less than those who had not.

The Swedish study is reported in the journal BMJ Open.

Dr Silke Kern, one of paper's authors, said: "Unlike other countries - Sweden is unique, it is not routine to treat women at high risk of heart disease and stroke with aspirin. This meant we had a good group for comparison."

The women were tested using a mini mental state exam (MMSE) - this tests intellectual capacity and includes orientation questions like, "what is today's date?", "where are we today?" and visual-spatial tests like drawing two interlinking pentagons.

No self-medication But the report found that while aspirin may slow changes in cognitive ability in women at high risk of a heart attack or stroke, it made no difference to the rate at which the women developed dementia - which was also examined for by a neuropsychiatrist.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "The results provide interesting insight into the importance of cardiovascular health on cognition, but we would urge people not to self-medicate with aspirin to try to stave off dementia.

"The study reports no benefit from aspirin on overall dementia rates in the group, and previous trials investigating the potential of drugs like aspirin for dementia have been negative."

Dr Kern added: "We don't know the long term risks of taking routine aspirin. For examples ulcers and serious bleeds may outweigh the benefits we have seen. More work is needed. We will be following up the women in this study again in five years."

Study: Moms who carry boys show male DNA in their brains decades later

From guest blogger Liz Atwood: Now I know why I've lost interest in shopping, wearing jewelry and painting my nails.  I thought I was just busy, but a new study says my boys may have changed my brain.

The report published last week finds that women who share the womb with a twin brother or have baby boys have slight traces of male DNA in their brains decades later. The study concludes that genetic material doesn't just past from mother to son, but from son to mother.

What all this means is still a mystery. Having a boy may alter a woman's brain in ways that make her more resilient to certain diseases and more vulnerable to others, the researchers say.

I live with two boys with raging hormones. Even the dog and the cat are males. I feel like I'm surrounded by way too much testosterone. The idea that these boys have also seeped into my brain is a little unsettling.

I sometimes look enviously at my girlfriends who have daughters. They bonded over Twilight movies and the Little House on the Prairie books. They do each other's hair and share each other's clothes. I’m sure it's not always fun, especially if all the women are PMSing at the same time.

But if my boys have left traces of their DNA in my brain, have they made me more like them in some way?
Are they the reason I don’t like Justin Bieber? Have they inoculated me against Miley Cyrus? Thank goodness, I still don't like video games and I see no humor in fart jokes.

Male Gouldian finches select mates using only left side of brain, study finds

Male Gouldian finches are usually attracted to females with the same head colour … unless they’re blindfolded.  
Tweet-twoo: beauty is in the (right) eye of the beholdeChoosing a mate is one of the most important decisions an individual of any species will make in its life. It is therefore perhaps a surprise that a new study, of which I'm a co-author, has revealed a bird puts only half its mind into the mate-selection process.

Our study – led by Jennifer Templeton of Knox College, USA – is published today in Biology Letters and reveals the preference for attractive or unattractive mates is made in just the left side of the brain.

We were able to demonstrate this using a simple experiment that works because, in birds, visual information to the left-hand side of the brain comes from the right eye.

The Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) comes in two forms, with both males and females having either red or black heads. Typically, males prefer to associate with and partner females that have the same head colour as themselves.

In our study, males were allowed to choose between associating with differently coloured females and also whether they preferred to associate with a female over a male.

A red male and black female Gouldian finch. Credit: Sarah Pryke The catch was that in experimental trials the males had a temporary eye patch (which you can see here modelled by a zebra finch) placed over the left eye, the right eye, or neither eye. When males were able to use both eyes, or the right eye alone, they consistently choose to hang out with the female of the same head colour as themselves and also spent more time courting these females by singing to them.

But when males had the eye patch placed over their right eye, and could only use their left eye for viewing potential partners, they were unable to discriminate between the different females, and did not spend as much time courting them with song.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, males that were not able to view subjects with their right eye did not even allocate more time to females than males.

This study will help us uncover the mechanical process underlying what is actually a very complex decision – deciding who will make an attractive partner. The findings demonstrate mate choice is lateralised in the brain – occurring predominantly in one specialised region, in one half of the brain.

An interesting consequence of this finding is that, because the important left side of the brain receives input on potential mates from just the right eye, it would pay individuals to approach and court individuals predominantly from the right-hand side.

The idea of picking apart the mechanisms at the heart of attractiveness and mate choice in these finches might seem very far removed from our own emotional experience of mate choice and love.

But the findings of brain lateralisation with respect to mate choice in these finches actually tie in very nicely with a 2005 study of humans.

That particular study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 17 people who were intensely "in love", and found when the individuals thought about their partner, they activated a few key areas in just the right side of their brains.

There is still much research to be done on the mechanisms that govern mate selection – in finches and in other species – but our study gives valuable insight into where, in the brain, this process occurs.