Alzheimer’s Disease – New Research Provides Hope

Our bodies know when to wake up and when to fall asleep. In fact, the human brain can track short bursts of time like a sort of mental stopwatch. Yet, when it comes to our memories, our sense of time becomes fuzzy.

The latest research is starting to uncover how our brain puts our memories in order. According to scientists, these new insights into the workings of the brain, paired with electrical impulses, may help in the early detection and understanding of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.


What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with thinking, memory, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and progress worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for approximately 80% of dementia cases. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, there are an estimated 50 million people living worldwide with dementia. This number is expected to double every twenty years as the population ages.

According to Dr. Gad Marshall, associate medical director of clinical trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “For 1% of all cases, there are three genes that determine definitively whether or not you will have Alzheimer’s.” For the other 99%, amyloid and tau are closely associated with Alzheimer’s. However, many factors may contribute to the development of symptoms, such as inflammation in the brain, vascular risk factors, and lifestyle.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, the symptoms of the disease can be treated with medication. However, these treatments do not stop Alzheimer’s from progressing. Current treatments are designed to temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.


Electrical Stimulation Proves Promising for Dementia

Robert Reinhart, a neuroscientist at Boston University, and his co-author, doctoral student John Nguyen, focused their study on an aspect of cognition called working memory. Considered ‘the sketch pad of the brain’ working memory allows people to hold information in active use for a few seconds at a time.

Our working memory helps with all sorts of important tasks in everyday life, such as storing information for around 10 -15 seconds to assist with problem solving, reasoning, planning and decision making. For example, working memory helps us keep the digits of a telephone number in mind as we write it down.

According to Reinhart, research has shown that working memory is a key part of intelligence. However, our working memory declines as we age. Essentially, there are two areas in the brain that must work together correctly for working memory to function well (the prefrontal and temporal cortex).

During the study, scientists fired electrical currents of the same frequency at these two areas of the brain. The technique, called high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation, uses electrodes to target very specific regions in the brain regions. Findings from the study showed older participants were able to carry out working memory tasks as well as people in their 20s. The electrical stimulation took 25 minutes, and the effects lasted at least 50 minutes.

Researchers hope to eventually implant electrodes into hats or headsets which could be administered by doctors or caregivers at home. Dr. Reinhart hopes his techniques will also help people suffering from memory loss due to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, adding “Working memory deficits are central to many brain disorders, from schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ADHD and autism – so our hope is this will lay the basic groundwork for an entirely new avenue of research.”


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