25th Mar 2016
Forgetting loved ones’ names, important dates or events, and details of one’s earlier life are all hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Until recently, the scientific community generally accepted the idea that the disease destroys the process by which these memories are stored, resulting in their complete loss. However, new research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has uncovered evidence that these memories may not be lost indefinitely, they’re just inaccessible, with the potential to be retrieved.
How the Research was Conducted
The research involved two groups of mice: a control group and a group that was genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Both groups were given a mild electric shock to their feet. The first group appeared to remember the trauma of the incident by showing fear when placed back in the box where they had been given the shock. The Alzheimer’s mice, on the other hand, seemed to quickly forget what happened and did not have an upset reaction to the box.
The researchers then located the cells associated with this specific memory — called engram cells — in the part of the brain that encodes short-term memories. They stimulated these cells with blue light. After doing so, when they placed the mice back in the box where they had first been shocked, the Alzheimer’s group appeared to remember the trauma they experienced and exhibited the same fear as the healthy group of mice.
The researchers were encouraged by the findings, but came to realize that the memories restored in this way faded within a day. They noted a reduction in the number of spines — small knobs on brain cells through which neurons pass along information. Restoring the lost spines with high-frequency bursts of light in the brain enabled the mice to remember the shock once again, for up to six days.
According to the researchers, “Directly activating the cells that are holding the memory gets them to retrieve it. This suggests that it is indeed an access problem to the information, not that they’re unable to learn or store this memory.” Head researcher, Susumu Tonegawa, a Nobel Prize winner, says “Basic research as conducted in this study provides information on cell populations to be targeted, which is critical for future treatments and technologies.”
Scientists at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, said the researchers used a “clever strategy.” They called the findings “exciting” and wrote that they “might help to guide engram-based strategies that rescue memory deficits in patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.” Other experts caution that the technique is not something that can be translated into use for the 44 million people living with dementia worldwide anytime soon, and that the invasive light-based procedure is presently considered too dangerous for human trials. Still, researchers are hopeful about the potential of being able to reverse early-stage Alzheimer’s-induced memory loss—in humans—in the future.
There are many more promising research studies about Alzheimer’s and dementia and, like you, I am hopeful that these studies will yield a breakthrough soon. For more details on Alzheimer’s research, visit alz.org.
Early Detection is Key
Research suggests that the process of Alzheimer’s disease begins more than a decade before clinical symptoms appear. Early detection is important for planning for long-term care and participating in trials to help stave off the disease and possibly find a cure. Early detection may also have a major impact on the course of the disease, and in successfully treating symptoms. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, be sure to make an appointment with a doctor for a medical evaluation, including mental status testing and a physical and neurological examination.
Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s and Other Types of Dementia
Alzheimer’s is the biggest health and social care challenge of our generation, and a diagnosis of the disease is life-changing. When it comes to planning for long-term care needs, generally, the earlier someone with dementia plans, the better. But it is never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning. Please understand that there are planning strategies where you may not be required to spend-down all of your assets and go broke in order to get Medicaid assistance.
Medicaid Asset Protection
People with Alzheimer’s live on average four to eight years after they’re diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis. If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia you may be faced with special legal and financial needs. At Christensen Young & Associates, PLLC, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.