Mar 24, 2011

Alzheimer's, Dotty, Jay and Brain Plasticity

I wonder to myself as I read, what makes Dotty and Jay different? Are they doing something that is causing a form of brain plasticity?...
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Repeat Talking Toy ParrotI'm not a doctor or a scientist. Nevertheless, I read Alzheimer's research and wonder how the new findings apply to the Alzheimer's patients I know. Of course, the first on my list is my mother, Dotty.

Now that Dotty has bounced backed, she is starting to do things that catch my attention.

For example, she is once again looking at and reading aloud from the newspaper. She reads the articles that are of interest to her out loud to me.

Another example (this is one of many), she is getting up and putting cereal and milk in a bowl. Sometimes 3-4 times a day. And yes, she is hungry every minute of every day. Even after 3 consecutive bowls of cereal.

I also think about Jay Smith. I think Jay and I first exchanged email in 2008 or 2009. Jay is doing very well. He certainly proves that you can continue to live your life the way you had after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. As far as I am concerned, Jay is an excellent role model.

So anyway, I am reading about brain plasticity and redundancy (see the short version below). This has me thinking? Is their something in the daily regimen of Dotty or Jay that is causing a form of brain plasticity?

Is their one thing in their regimen that is making a difference? Or, is it the combination of the things they are doing each day that is making a difference? Both are on the combination of Aricept and Namenda. And, both are living their lives.

"Brain plasticity refers to the brain's remarkable ability to change and reorganize itself".

There are similarities in the daily regimen of Dotty and Jay. One interesting thing. Jay sings. Dotty didn't really sing much. Well, not until we started using the Repeat Parrots -- Toy Parrot Improves Behavior and Mood in Alzheimer's Patient.

Now she is singing more. Mostly to the parrot. Every once in a while she belts out a few lines while away from the parrot. She will sing if she hears music on the television. As best she can. She is happy when she sings. I can also say, when I sing along with the parrot she really gets tickled. I think the parrot has a better voice than me.

Dotty is certainly happier, more energetic and more engaged these days. There is also one other thing. Out of the clear blue sky she is now walking down to see our neighbors. For the first time in years.

At any rate, you can go read about Jay Smith's regimen here -- This Man Decided to Fight Alzheimer's -- Jay Smith. You might want to give this some thought.

I can already here you saying -- "they won't do it" in reference to your own Alzheimer's patient. Well most of the things we are doing since the decision:

We will start living our life the way we always did.

Dotty would not do before I made that decision.

For about two years, and we are going back 5 to 7 years, Dotty wouldn't do anything. There are things we do right now that start with Dotty saying NO over and over. Nevertheless, we just do them.

I don't have to force or cajole Dotty to do things. All I have to do is stay calm, smile, pile on the positive reinforcement, and take her hand.

Lead, not follow. You have to lead, not follow.

So here I sit and wonder? Are Dotty and Jay doing something that is causing a form of brain plasticity?

People at risk of Alzheimer's may now be able to delay the onset of their first symptoms

The human brain loses 5 to 10% of its weight between the ages of 20 and 90 years old.

While some cells are lost, the brain is equipped with two compensatory mechanisms: plasticity and redundancy. Based on the results of her most recent clinical study published today in the online version of Brain: A Journal of Neurology, Dr. Sylvie Belleville, PhD in neuropsychology, the principal author of this study and Director of Research at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), which is affiliated with the Université de Montréal, has found that for elderly subjects at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, hope may lie in brain plasticity.

"Brain plasticity refers to the brain's remarkable ability to change and reorganize itself. It was long thought that brain plasticity declined with age, however, our study demonstrates that this is not the case, even in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease", declares Sylvie Belleville.

These findings open countless new avenues of research including the possibility of improving the plasticity of affected areas of the brain, and slowing the decline in plasticity through pharmacological means or lifestyle changes, thereby allowing subjects with Alzheimer's disease to enjoy several more symptom-free years.

The hypothesis behind this research was that certain cells traditionally involved in other brain processes could, through a simple memory training program, temporarily take over since they themselves are not yet affected. According to Dr. Belleville:
"Our research has validated our hypothesis. Not only were we able to use functional imaging to observe this diversification, but we also noted a 33% increase in the number of correct answers given during a post-training memory task by subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who, incidentally, are ten times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease".

The training program that was used was designed to help elderly subjects with MCI develop strategies, such as the use of mnemonics, for example, and promote encoding and retrieval, such as word lists, for example, using alternative areas of the brain. "The hypothesis had already been raised, but our team was the first to provide scientific support, using a functional neuroimaging protocol", added Sylvie Belleville.

Researchers worked with thirty elderly subjects: 15 healthy adults and 15 with MCI. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to analyse brain activity in the two groups 6 weeks prior to memory training, one week prior to training and one week after training.

Before the memory training, magnetic resonance imaging in both the healthy elderly subjects and those with MCI showed activation in areas of the brain traditionally associated with memory. As expected, decreased activation was observed in subjects with MCI. After training, brain areas in elderly subjects with MCI showed increased activation in areas typically associated with memory, but also in new areas of the brain usually associated with language processing, spatial and object memory and skill learning.

According to Dr. Belleville: "Analysis of brain activity during encoding as measured before and after the training program, indicates that increased post-training activation in the right inferior parietal gyrus is associated with post-intervention improvement. The healthy area of the brain has taken over for the area that is compromised."

Overview of the IUGM

The IUGM consists of 452 short- and long-terms beds and an ambulatory care centre that includes one of the five chronic pain management clinics in the world. It is the leader in clinical practice, specialized care, health promotion and knowledge development in the field of aging and senior health in Quebec.

The authors are grateful for the support provided by the CAREC, the IUGM Foundation, the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, as well as the entire team of clinical neuropsychologists at the IUGM.

A complete version of the study is available on request.

Frédérique Laurier
Geneviève Desrosiers
Communications and Public Affairs
514-340-2800, extension 3554 or 3298/ Mobile: 514-295-5099

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 2,390 articles with more than 272,100 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room