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Recent Study on Exercise
Offers New Hope in Battling Alzheimer’s

Physical exercise as preventative for Alzheimer's disease

Approximately 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. Around 5.3 million are aged 65 or above, while around 200,000 develop younger-onset Alzheimer’s. The diseases imposes a big economic and personal burden. The costs of health and long-term care or people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is considerable, with the total payments in 2017 for all persons with this disease and other dementias, estimated to amount to $259 billion.

Alzheimer’s causes individuals to have twice as many hospital stays as other elderly people and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients on Medicare also have a higher risk of having chronic illnesses than those without these illnesses. The life expectancy of those with Alzheimer’s is also affected in patients, who live from eight to 10 years, on average, after receiving their diagnosis. The good news is that one recent study shows that exercise can help individuals re-establish important neural connections, thus improving brain functionality.

Alzheimer's disease is also known as dementia
A recent study on exercise indicates that exercise may re-establish neural connections
in the brain, lost to the neural pathology caused by the Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's and Exercise Study

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, sought to ascertain whether or not a simple walking regime could reverse declines in important regions of the brain, in elderly adults. The study, led by associate professor of kinesiology, Dr. J. Carson Smith, observed a group of adults aged 60 to 88, who took part in a 12-week walking program. Smith noted that in patients with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease, there is a loss of connectivity in the part of the brain known as the PCC (posterior cingulate cortex). When connectivity is lost in this area, scientists can predict mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s, long before the symptoms actually manifest themselves.

Dr. Smith and his team worked with two groups of elders; the first group comprised 16 healthy individuals and the second group consisted of individuals who had already been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. All participants were asked to walk half an hour a day four times weekly (at between 50 and 60 per cent of their heart rate reserve) for a three-month period.

Researchers took full fMRI brain scans to observe functional connectivity between multiple brain regions and the PCC region. After the exercise programme ended, showed an improved memory, but only the mildly cognitively impaired group showed greater connectivity in the PCC. The scientists concluded that exercise may re-establish connections, to possible make up for the neural pathology caused by Alzheimer’s disease. While it is yet to be established whether or not exercise can cut down cognitive decline in patients with mild cognitive decline, the findings do at least show that exercise may promote brain plasticity and improve network connectivity.

Exercise improves brain connectivity
Regular walking exercise has shown to be beneficial to those who might be experiencing
early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and even delay its onset.

Greebles Test for Alzheimer's

In Alzheimer’s news elsewhere, researchers at the University of Louisville recently found that unique graphic characters called Greebles (which vary in small details from each other) may be helpful in detecting Alzheimer’s long before symptoms appear. In a report published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease in April, 2017, Dr. Emily Mason of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Louisville, revealed that cognitively healthy people who nevertheless have a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease, find it more difficult to distinguish between unique figures called Greebles, than those who do not have a genetic predisposition for the disease.

Dr. Mason noted that currently, by the time Alzheimer’s is detected, so much damage has been suffered by the brain that little can be done to restore function. However, this type of tests enables very subtle differences to be noted.

Dr. Mason carried out tests with subjects aged 40-60. One group was considered as having a higher risk of Alzheimer’s because one of their parents had been diagnosed with the disease. The other group did not have Alzheimer’s in their immediate family history. All subjects were shown sets of four images featuring real life objects, faces, scenes and Greebles. In all sets, one image slightly differed from the other three. The at-risk group performed similarly for things, faces and scenes, but scored lower in their ability to define differences between Greebles.

Researchers hope to ask individuals to take the test in their 40s and 50s, follow up on their progress for 10 or 20 years to see who develops the disease. If results show that a close association between the ability to differentiate between Greebles and the chance of developing Alzheimer’s, the test can be used as a way to identify sufferers of this disease, to enable them to take preventive measures as soon as possible.

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