Research for a Cure: Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia are receiving attention from the scientific community in the search for ways to stave off the debilitating conditions and, ultimately, for a cure. Progress is being made in those directions, with multiple research results in the news.

Update August 4, 2016: Faster, Cheaper Blood Test Predicts Alzheimer’s Probability

When evaluating the study results mentioned here or in any media, keep in mind that until that research has been subject to peer review and investigation by the scientific community, it may be hopeful news, but it’s not proven science. With this in mind, here are three recent Alzheimer’s study results that hold hope for the future:

To learn more about evaluating scientific studies and medical research: Evaluating Online Health Information and Research

Can Brain Games Stave Off Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease?

Researchers presented their findings of a 10-year study to determine what effect, if any, popular computer brain games may have in keeping dementia symptoms at bay in older adults. The presentation took place in Toronto on July 24, 2016 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, the largest such gathering of researchers in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The study, called Active, for Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly, found that a particular type of brain games, speed training, has the potential to reduce the risk of developing dementia 10 years later by up to 48 percent.

Speed training is what the study termed brain games that get the user to process visual information more quickly. Speed training was found to be more effective than memory or reasoning exercises, two other types of brain games.

While all three types of computer brain games were found to improve cognitive function and abilities to perform activities of daily living, it was only speed training games that reduced declines in overall health, prevented symptoms of depression and reduced the incidence of at-fault car crashes.

While these conclusions are hopeful and profound, it should be noted that this research has not yet ben subjected to peer review. Still, there is nothing to suggest that playing computer brain games is harmful in any way, and because it may prove to be advantageous to both physical and mental health and acuity, there seems to be good reason to indulge.

Work that Involves Social Interaction and Complex Thinking Associated with Decreased Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Research from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and Wisconsin’s Alzheimer’s Institute, also presented at the 2016 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, demonstrated the association between occupations that required complex thinking or activities were less likely to have cognitive decline in later years than those people who worked in more mundane or routine jobs.

Occupations that included working with people rather than chiefly with “things or data” lead to a decreased incidence of cognitive decline as evidenced by the examination of the brain scans of more than 280 people identified as being at risk for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Active social interactions outside of the workplace also promote good cognitive function for longer periods of time.

Cannibinoids May Have a Place in Alzheimer’s Therapy

Since the acceptance of marijuana as a medical treatment by a majority of states in the United States, research into the many chemical components, cannibinoids, has found more acceptance by both the scientific community and general population.

One study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature on June 23, 2016, demonstrated the ability of the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, THC, to be successful in stimulating the removal of toxic plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease as well as blocking inflammation, a process that destroys brain neurons.

David Schubert, one of the study’s authors and professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, said of the research, “It is reasonable to conclude that there is a therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”

As is true for much of the research done on the various chemical components of marijuana, not everyone in the scientific community holds the same optimism for this study’s outcome. Dr. Donovan Maust, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan termed Schubert’s research “interesting,” but feels there are still too many questions to be answered about marijuana and Alzheimer’s disease to recommend for patient usage.

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