This is your brain on coffee

For hundreds of years, coffee has been one of the two or three most popular beverages on earth.

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In a large scale epidemiological study (National Cancer Institute 2012), men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study.

Other studies have linked three or four 5-ounce cups of coffee a day with more specific advantages: a reduction in the risk of developing:

And, most importantly (?), animal experiments show that caffeine may reshape the biochemical environment inside our brains in ways that could stave off dementia. In a 2012 study, caffeinated mice regained their ability to form new memories 33 percent faster than uncaffeinated mice. This might be related to adenosine, which both provides energy AND can be destructive under stress; leading to inflammation, disruptive neuron function and neurodegeneration. And in a 2012 Florida study with humans, persons with little or no caffeine circulating in their bloodstreams were far more likely to  progress from MCI to full-blown Alzheimer’s than those whose blood indicated they’d had about three cups’ worth of caffeine.

However, we still have so much to learn about the effects of caffeine. “But a cup of coffee “has been popular for a long, long time,” Dr. Freund says, “and there’s probably good reasons for that.” much love.

Adapted from: Reynolds, Gretchen. This is your brain on Coffee. NY Times, June 6 2013.

NEW research opportunity

Hi!

Just wanted to point out that I have a new tab… RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES.

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And, yes, that means I am off-and-running with my latest research study. SO, PLEASE check it out if you are interested in getting involved – Specifically, I’m looking for care partners of persons with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or Parkinson’s disease to fill out a questionnaire! *the 4 hours/week requirement could include basic housekeeping chores (laundry, dishes, cleaning), errands (shopping), transportation, cooking – I’m looking for people across all disease stages.

Pretty simple, and you could be doing your part to better understands unique care needs and experiences across disease groups.

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… looking forward to hearing from you! much love.

Waiting too long for a dementia diagnosis?

The dementia themed posts this month are in honour of Alzheimer’s awareness month. If you’re interested, past posts include: defining dementia, dementia gene, G8 dementia summit, and Azheimer’s vs. Parkinson’s disease.

About 747,000 Canadians have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and this number is expected to climb to 1.4 million in less than 20 years.

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Recently, the Alzheimer’s Society Canada (ASC) is warning that 50% of Canadians with dementia are not diagnosed early enough… losing valuable time when early interventions may help manage day to day living and enable better planning for the future.

During Alzheimer’s awareness month, ASC is advising the public and healthcare professionals to spot early warning signs of dementia in family members and patients. There is often stigma associated with dementia, and people may be hesitant to share warning signs they see in themselves, such as loss of judgment or forgetfulness, to their doctors or family members.

… More info on ASC’s early diagnosis HERE. much love.

Other references:

Alzheimer’s Society Canada

Global News (Carmen Chai, Jan 7/14)

Parkinson’s disease… more than a movement disorder.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is more than a movement disorder.

Dementia is one of the things people worry about. And a number of people with PD can develop cognitive changes. I want to stress these are DIFFERENT things.

Dementia is a loss of intellectual function (memory, reason, problem solving, abstract reasoning) which is qualitatively different from a previous state of life. Dementia is chronic and progressive and impairs vocational/social function. *Remember the difference between dementia (the umbrella term) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD – a type of dementia)… read more about that HERE.

Now, AD, a type of dementia, involves the external part of the brain (the wrinkly part!), including the neocortex, and typically presents with memory/learning problems.

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This is different than cognitive changes that occur in PD.

The basal ganglia part of the brain (subcortical – inner part of brain!) is affected in PD. The basal ganglia is not just involved in coordinated movement, but a junction site for some cognitive processing. So, cognitive changes in PD are a bit different – it may includes difficulty learning something, but memory of the material is retained. Cognitive changes include slowness of thought, insight, mental flexibility, attention/focus (vigilance). This is where cueing is helpful to retrieve information and for timing. We also see changes in “executive function” in PD, which basically monitors other processes; it is higher cognitive functioning that controls how we interact in the world (timing, appropriate behaviour, sequencing, tasking).

… does that start to clear these terms up? This is my current area of research focus… specifically the impact of these cognitive changes on caregivers, so lots more to come on this! much love.

The G8 dementia summit: a recap

Did you know the G8 health ministers met in London December 11th for a one-day summit on dementia? Mimi Lowi-Young, CEO, Alzheimer Society of Canada, along with Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose and other leading Canadian researchers attended.

Their goal is to find an effective treatment for dementia by 2025 and improve the quality of life for people who are affected. This is an important public health problem, as dementia affects more than 35 million people worldwide and is expected to almost double every 20 years.

The ministers committed to 12 goals to address the human and economic toll of dementia-related illnesses, including “the ambition to identify a cure or a disease-modifying therapy for dementia by 2025 and to increase collectively and significantly the amount of funding for dementia research to reach that goal.” They also called for innovative ways to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers while reducing its emotional and financial burden.

Alzheimer's disease International

Alzheimer’s disease International

The entire document and all 12 goals can be read HERE.

Also, Canada and France will co-host a meeting in Ottawa in 2014 that will focus on partnering academia and industry to put research into practical ideas and care models. The U.K. government is also appointing a dementia team to explore a private and philanthropic fund for global dementia innovation.

Looking forward to seeing how this creates new and innovative partnerships for dementia research in 2014! much love.

 

How exercise improves brain health

Last week I mentioned some specific exercises targeted to PD symptoms (see HERE and HERE)… today I want to share WHY exercise is so important for brain health.

New Research out of the Dana-Faber Cancer institute and Harvard Medical School (Spiegelman & Greenberg, Cell Metabolism 2013) shows that endurance exercise, such as distance running or cycling, releases a protein (FNDC5) that improves brain health while promoting the growth of nerves associated with cognition.

Alzheimers and Exercise

In laboratory rats, PGC-1α (which is also found in humans) led to improvements in protein FNDC5 and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factors (BDNF). PGC-1α is thought to coordinate the gene response to exercise,  blood pressure and development of obesity.

Exercise stimulates BDNF expression in the hippocampus, the part of the human brain associated with memory and learning. In this study, specific improvements in awareness and memory recall was demonstrated. BDNFs are also responsible for creating new brain connections (neurons, synapses)

Memory is Enhanced by Exercise

Rich Exercise Regimens Promote Cognitive Health

So, keep moving! much love.

Other reference:

http://www.ibtimes.com/exercise-improves-brain-health-could-lead-new-alzheimers-parkinsons-treatments-1424338#.Ul35Vb9PDvQ.twitter

images from bodbot.com

Gerontologists and family on the East Coast

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks…

I was at the WPC2013 in Montreal, the first week of October, and recently have been on the east coast for a couple conferences.

The Canadian association on gerontology held their annual conference in Halifax… which, is close to family for me! I presented some PDF research on categorizing dementia caregiver stressors across neurodegenerative diseases (AD, PD, MCI, DLB).

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The typology shows that different symptoms, lead to different secondary strains (i.e. memory –> role-strain, motor –> constant vigilance) and this varies with disease. The implications of this are that we cannot provide the same support across all dementia caregivers.

I also did a workshop on Yoga for Parkinson’s disease, with a specific focus on application to this population from a pathological and physiological perspective, as well as some issues around current yoga research.

Aside from both of these, I got to teach early morning yoga classes for those participants who wanted to get some physical activity in before the conference sessions. I had a good group of 12 people both days… you know who you are, way to go! Thanks to Moksha Yoga Halifax, and my dear friend Jo, for letting us use your yoga mats! … and for the delicious breakfast date with your cutie!

After my workshop, I hoped in my car and drove up to Cape Breton Island. Let me tell you, the trees on the east coast are so incredibly beautiful this time of year. It was indescribable. The pictures don’t do it justice.

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I have a “boatload” of family in and around Nova Scotia (that’s what happens when your dad is 1 of 10 siblings!) and was lucky enough to see: 4 Cousin, 7 Aunts or Uncles, and Nanny … the one and only.  All who left me feeling spoiled and full of love … not bad for a 30hour trip to the Island and a 2-hour conference break!

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… and then my adventure continues in the NorthEastern United States. Stay tuned. Much love.

self-portraits with alzheimer’s disease

I went to an interesting talk last week, titled “a dialogue on aging, developmental disabilities and dementia” and learned a lot about how dementia impacts older persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
… Like how older persons (>40yrs) with down-syndrome are at a high risk (25%+) for developing Alzheimer’s disease. And the implications of that on health services, aging parent caregivers and housing.
Another interesting piece I took away was about the artist William Utermohlen.
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William was an American artist who died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in 2007. His work expresses his experience as a patient living with this disease.
As his disease progressed, William focused on self-portraiture, particularly his own head and strange, black, half-open doorways which started to appear in the background. His declining movement control over his movement forced him to switch from oils to watercolours and pencils. I was really taken by his work; it is a fascinating insight into the mind of a person with Alzheimer’s. much love.
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Read more…

From research to real life: smell, sleep, constipation and Parkinson’s

… what do these 3 things have in common? Early detection of PD.

New research shows that hyposmia (loosing sense of smell), rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD), and constipation, may be early Parkinson’s disease manifestations that reflect the underlying alphasynuclein pathology (the degeneration that is happening in the brain!) as well as predict subsequent onset of motor manifestations (Ravina & Aarsland, Mov Disord 2013).

Also, recent prospective (it means the researchers followed patients for 4-years) study shows that patients with RBD have increased cognitive impairment on neuropsychological testing (Postuma et al., Mov Disord 2012). The results showed that 48% of persons with RBD developed some cognitive impairments (especially hallucinations and some cognitive fluctuations), compared to 0% of patients who did not have RBD. This gives us an indication that we should watch RBD diagnosis in Parkinson’s disease closely as RBD may be a good marker of cognitive impairment subtypes associated with Parkinson’s.

A typical sleep cycle (dementiatoday.com)

A typical sleep cycle (dementiatoday.com)

what RBD can often look like! Yikes! ... and often dangerous to your bedmate (netterimages.com)

what RBD can often look like! Yikes! … and often dangerous to your bedmate
(netterimages.com)

… so ask your bedmate and talk to your doctor about how do you sleep at night. much love.

Debunking brain training myths

This week kicked off brain awareness week… and the people over at sharpbrains.com debunked 10 myths around brain fitness… here are my 5 favourites!

Myth 1. Genes deter­mine the fate of our brains.

Fact: Life­long brain plas­tic­ity means that our lifestyles and behav­iors play a sig­nif­i­cant role in how our brains (and there­fore our minds) phys­i­cally evolve.

(we have some aspect of control and can create new neural pathways – say with exercise for brain change!)


Myth 3. Med­ica­tion is the main hope for cog­ni­tive health and enhance­ment.
Fact: Non-invasive inter­ven­tions can have com­pa­ra­ble and more durable ben­e­fits, and are also free of side effects.

(drug side effects are not necessary, but side effects – like endorphins – from exercise are encouraged!)

(wolfestone.co.uk)

Myth 4. There’s noth­ing we can do to beat Alzheimer’s dis­ease and cog­ni­tive decline.
Fact: While noth­ing has been shown to pre­vent the pathol­ogy of Alzheimer ’s dis­ease, there is abun­dant research show­ing we can delay the onset of symp­toms for years –a very mean­ing­ful out­come which is often overlooked.-

Myth 8. Brain train­ing is pri­mar­ily about videogames.
Fact: Real, evidence-based brain train­ing includes some forms of med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­apy, cog­ni­tive train­ing, and biofeed­back. Inter­ac­tive media such as videogames can make those inter­ven­tions more engag­ing and scal­able, but it is impor­tant to dis­tin­guish the means from the end, as obvi­ously not all videogames are the same.

(yay meditation!… see the benefits of meditation and how to start HERE)

your brain on meditation (mindovermatter.com)

Myth 10. As long as my brain is work­ing fine, why should I even pay atten­tion to it?
Fact: For the same rea­sons you should add gas to your car and change the oil reg­u­larly – so that it works bet­ter and per­forms longer.

(some more ideas on “building brain muscles” HERE!)

… so, what are you doing to “train your brain”?? much love.

(see original post HERE)