Tag Archives: Dr Ian McDonald Science Communicator

Research and news: June 2015

Slide6This weekly blog is late, due to time constraints caused by travels of the editor, and various other issues taking precedence which I will write about very soon. Please accept our (my) apologies.

However, there are a couple of interesting research reports I felt would be of interest to members this week, and a recently released ADI newsletter, the first one that DAI has a full page in as a regular feature.

Global Perspective Newsletter June 2015

Firstly, the Alzheimer’s Disease International Global Perspective Newsletter is out, with the first full page insert of news by Dementia Alliance International.

You can download the full newsletter here:  ADI Global Perspective Newsletter June 2015. DAI is featured on page 7.

Younger Onset Alzheimer’s disease

Reported on 28 May 2015 by Dr Ian McDonald in Dementia News, currently the Science Communicator at Alzheimer’s Australia, is another interesting research report: Younger Onset Alzheimer’s disease – new research reiterates it is not just about memory loss.

It is common to associate a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease with memory loss and while this is the case for many, new research has suggested that younger people (i.e. less than 65) with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease will more commonly have problems associated with judgement, language and/or visual and spatial awareness, rather than memory loss.

This result was published in the Journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia and suggests a need for a greater awareness of the different symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This is something that Alzheimer’s Australia and other dementia advocacy groups around the world are committed to doing.

The study, which was undertaken in the UK and led by researchers from the University College London, analysed data from 7815 people in the US National Alzheimer Coordinating Centre database. Each participant had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and a record had been made of the symptoms they had first noticed in the early stages of the disease. The average age of the group was 75, with the youngest person aged 36 and the oldest aged 110.

The results found that younger people with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease more commonly displayed non-memory cognitive impairments (i.e. judgement, language, etc.), however the results also showed that the odds of depression and behavioural symptoms also increased with younger age. In comparison the odds of having psychosis (confused thinking) but no behavioural symptoms increased with older age.

Source: Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia News

ADI Report: Women and Dementia

ADI have also published an important report, Women and Dementia, with the purpose of this report is to understand the main issues affecting women in relation to dementia from an international perspective. The report examines the effect of gender on three specific groups: women living with dementia; women caring for people with dementia in a professional caring role; women undertaking an informal caregiving role for someone with dementia.

Key findings

Across all regions of the world, dementia disproportionately affects women.

More women live with dementia than men. The prevalence is higher for women than for men; women are more at risk of developing dementia and the symptoms they live with are more severe.

Women provide a substantial proportion of informal care to people with dementia, with around two thirds of primary caregivers overall being women.

This figure is significantly higher in LMICs, areas which will account for 71% of the global prevalence of dementia by 2050.

The formal care workforce is predominantly female, providing the majority of health and social care in the community as well as in hospitals and care homes.

There is currently very little research focusing on the gender issues of living with, or caring for, someone with dementia and on the long-term impact of dementia on women as family and formal caregivers.


The report recommends that:

All countries need to understand the current and predicted prevalence and acknowledge that dementia disproportionately affects women. Accordingly, policy makers should review what support is currently available and what is required to meet future needs.

There is also a need for skilled care competencies for health and care staff and professionals working with people living with dementia with complex needs and co-morbidities.

In all regions people should be able to access appropriate information and support in place, enabling women across the world to continue to provide care, and to feel cared for themselves.

Source: Alzheimer’s Disease International

Read the full ADI report Women and Dementia-Full report or the summary Women-and-Dementia-Summary-Sheet

Dementia Research Wrap Up #3

Slide3Our latest Dementia Research Wrap Up covering updates from February 2015, by Dr Ian McDonald, the Science Communicator for Alzheimer’s Australia. Thank you Ian.

I recently spoke with Australian researchers at the Florey Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience who are working on a potential blood test to detect Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers. It might seem strange that researchers are focusing on developing diagnostic tools for dementia without any potential disease modifying therapies on the horizon, but after chatting with the researchers from Florey, they certainly put this research into some perspective.

Dr Blaine Roberts is a blood protein chemist, which means he spends his days looking for markers in the blood associated with disease pathology. He explained the point of his research quite simply by saying:

“With Alzheimer’s disease we don’t have that cholesterol test yet or that blood pressure test yet, and that is really what we are trying to get.”

He went on to say that the point of a blood test wouldn’t be to tell someone they have Alzheimer’s disease, as the point of a cholesterol test isn’t to tell you that you have cardiovascular [heart] disease. An Alzheimer’s blood test would be a screening tool which could be used by doctors to refer you on to a neuropsychologist (if required) and also offer advice on how to potentially change your lifestyle to reduce your risk of dementia and if this eventuates, to offer therapeutic strategies which may be able to minimise the damage that Alzheimer’s disease pathology can do to the brain.

I found this an interesting discussion and you can listen to it in full podcast at http://dementiaresearchfoundation.org.au/listen (Episode 26).

What about a treatment though? Are we getting any closer? Well while it is all still very preliminary, there was some interesting research out of the UK recently which noted that a compound called ‘Brichos’, can be effective at inhibiting the mechanisms which trigger the aggregation of the amyloid beta proteins, a major hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. However, while this compound has been shown to prevent the accumulation of amyloid beta proteins, there is no evidence that it can remove or break down the amyloid beta plaques once developed. At this point in time, further rigour is required to develop techniques to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia at an earlier stage.

So what is Brichos? It is part of a set of compounds known as ‘chaperone’ proteins, which evolve to help other proteins fold or unfold to prevent protein aggregation.

According to the Cambridge University Press Release:

“Brichos sticks to threads made up of malfunctioning proteins, called amyloid fibrils, which are the hallmark of the [Alzheimer’s] disease. By doing so, it stops these threads from coming into contact with other proteins, thereby helping to avoid the formation of highly toxic clusters that enable the condition to proliferate in the brain.”

I’ll keep you posted about any further research in this area. To finish off this month’s research wrap up, I want to highlight another great study out of the USA which is really putting its own twist on the way we currently look at dementia research. The study known as ‘SuperAgers’ aims to better understand and identify factors that contribute to SuperAging – the maintenance of cognitive functioning in older age. To qualify as a SuperAger, participants had to score a certain level on a variety of mental tests, undertake periodic brain scans and medical tests, and agree to donate their brains after death. Over 400 people registered for the study, with only 35 meeting the requirements to be considered a SuperAger. This study has been ongoing since 2007.

So what is special about SuperAgers? The latest results, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, gave us some more insight. Using MRI brain imaging techniques, the researchers compared 31 SuperAger brains to 21 brains of a similar age and 18 brains aged in their 50s and 60s. As part of the trial, post-mortem analysis of five of the ‘SuperAger’ brains was also conducted. Combining all the data, results revealed that ‘SuperAger’ brains had a significantly thicker region of the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain indirectly related to memory through its influence on related functions such as cognitive control, executive function, conflict resolution, motivation and perseverance. It was also noted that ‘SuperAger’ brains had significantly fewer neurofibrillary tangles (twisted fibres consisting of the Tau protein which cause brain cell death) and a large supply of a specific brain cell called ‘von Economo’, which are linked to higher social intelligence.

It is the hope that the ‘SuperAgers’ study will create a better understanding around why some people may not get dementia in later life and thus the researchers can develop a set of recommendations to advise the public on how to reduce your risk of dementia. The ‘SuperAgers’ study is still ongoing and I’ll keep you posted about further results. To find out more about the latest dementia research you can follow the Dementia News blog at http://dementiaresearchfoundation.org.au/blog and sign up via http://dementiaresearchfoundation.org.au/dementia-news

Author: Dr Ian McDonald