Hibernating Animals Might Provide Clues For Fighting Alzheimer's

What does animal hibernation have to do with Alzheimer's? More than you might think. According to new research, the way that critters wake up from a long winter's rest could help scientists devise new treatments for dementia.

Research from Leicester University have isolated a cold-activated protein, RBM3, which helps restore brain activity of animals that are coming out of long hibernation periods. Though the protein also exists in humans, it's been found to be missing among Alzheimer's patients, whose brains also commonly have a reduced number of synapses.

Here's how it works: When animals go into hibernation, their number of brain synapses decreases so as to allow them to enter a prolonged state of inactivity. Then, the cold-activated protein RBM3 rebuilds the synapses when the animal wakes up, thereby restoring normal brain activity. The research believe that a drug that mimics the effect of this protein may have the potential to restore lost brain function among individuals suffering from neurodegenerative disorders.

“The neuroprotective pathway identified in this study could be an important step forward Dr. Hugh Perry, chairman of the Medical Research Counsil’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, which funded the study," told the Telegraph. "We now need to find something to reproduce the effect of brain cooling. Just as anti-inflammatory drugs are preferable to cold baths in bringing down a high temperature, we need to find drugs which can induce the effects of hibernation and hypothermia.”

Hypothermia is known to protect the brain -- and the Leicester researchers sought to determine whether cooling the brains of Alzheimer's patients could help prevent synaptic loss.

To test this theory, the researchers lowered the body temperatures of a group of mice with Alzheimer's and a healthy control group to 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit (comparable to that of a small mammal in hibernation) for 45 minutes. When the 45 minutes were up, the RBM3 protein was activated in the healthy mice, restoring brain function as they woke up. In the mice with Alzheimer's, the protein did not kick in.

Researchers suggest that enhancing cold-shock pathways in the brain -- without cooling the body -- could act as a protective therapy for treating neurodegenerative disorders.

"While we don't think body cooling is a feasible treatment for long-term, progressive conditions like Alzheimer's disease, this research opens up the possibility of finding drugs that can have the same effect," Dr. Doug Brown of the Alzheimer's Society said in a statement. "We are very much looking forward to seeing this research taken forward to the next stage.'

The findings were published in the journal Nature.


7 Winter Safety Tips for Seniors

During the winter months, ice, snow and cold temperatures can make life challenging for everyone. Slippery sidewalks and cold weather can cause a wide range of injuries and illnesses -- especially for seniors.

Here is some helpful advice for preventing common winter dangers that the elderly population faces.

1. Avoid Slipping on Ice

Icy, snowy roads and sidewalks make it easy to slip and fall. "Unfortunately, falls are a common occurrence for senior citizens, especially during the winter months," says Dr. Stanley Wang, a physician at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. Often these falls cause major injuries such as hip and wrist fractures, head trauma and major lacerations.

While younger people often recover relatively quickly from such injuries, older adults face complications, which Dr. Wang says are a leading cause of death from injury in men and women over the age of 65.

Make sure to wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles, and stay inside until the roads are clear. Replace a worn cane tip to making walking easier. Take off shoes as soon as you return indoors because often snow and ice attach to the soles and, once melted, can lead to slippery conditions inside.

2. Dress for Warmth

Cold temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia -- a condition where the body temperature dips too low. According to the CDC, more than half of hypothermia-related deaths were of people over the age of 65.

So don't let indoor temperatures go too low and dress in layers. Going outside? Wear warm socks, a heavy coat, a warm hat, gloves and a scarf. In very cold temperatures, cover all exposed skin. Use a scarf to cover your mouth and protect your lungs.

Your body temperature should never dip below 95 degrees -- if it does get medical assistance immediately.

3. Fight Wintertime Depression

Because it can be difficult and dangerous to get around, many seniors have less contact with others during cold months. This can breed feelings of loneliness and isolation.

To help avoid these issues, family members can check in on seniors as often as possible; even a short, daily phone call can make a big difference. Seniors can also arrange a check-in system with neighbors and friends, where each person looks in on one or two others daily.

4. Check the Car

Driving during the winter can be hazardous for anyone. But it is especially dangerous for older people, who may not drive as often anymore or whose reflexes may not be as quick as they once were. Get your car serviced before wintertime hits -- or ask a family member to bring it to a garage for you. Checking things like the oil, tires, battery and wipers can make a big difference on winter roads. Also make sure your AAA membership is up-to-date in case of emergencies.

5. Prepare for Power Outages

Winter storms can lead to power outages. Make sure you have easy access to flashlights and a battery-powered radio in case the power goes out. Stockpile warm blankets. Longer power outages can spoil the food in your refrigerator and freezer so keep a supply of non-perishable foods that can be eaten cold on hand. If the power goes out, wear several layers of clothing, including a hat. Move around a lot to raise your body temperature. Check out this winter weather checklist from the CDC to make sure you have everything you may need.

6. Eat a Varied Diet

Because people spend more time indoors and may eat a smaller variety of foods, nutritional deficits -- especially Vitamin D deficiency -- can be a problem. Nicole Morrissey, a registered dietician in southwest Michigan, recommends consuming foods that are fortified with Vitamin D, such as milk, grains and seafood options like tuna and salmon.

7. Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Using a fireplace, gas heater or lanterns can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Ensure your safety by checking the batteries on your carbon monoxide detector and buying an updated one if you need to.

The most important tip to keep in mind during the colder months is to ask for help. If you need to clear your property of snow and ice, don't hesitate to ask a family member or neighbor, or hire a professional. Arrange rides to the grocery store and doctor's appointments. Many communities have shuttle services specifically for seniors. Don't be afraid to reach out for help.

Wintertime certainly poses challenges for seniors, but with a bit of planning and awareness, you will stay healthy and experience the joys of springtime soon enough.


Watch SIMPLE MAN, a Dementia Documentary Short Film

Watch this incredibly touching short documentary, Simple Man, directed by Carter Doering and Taylor Bluemel, which takes a look at the Hagen family as they deal with patriarch Steve's fronto-temporal dementia.

In the film Rose Hagen and her family discuss their challenges and how music has become a powerful ally for the both her husband and her children.


6 Ways Dementia Changes How You Think

Dementia is a scary word with an often scarier reality. Understanding the experience of dementia, or as it is now clinically called Neurocognitive Disorder (NCD), can help shift our perspective.

Six domains of cognition are used to paint a picture of dementia in the DSM, the psychological world's guide to diagnosing. There is more to the picture of dementia than can be painted by cognition alone. Cognition, or thinking, is the easiest facet of the dementia phenomenon to measure and therefore is the basis for diagnosing.

1. Complex Attention

One becomes more easily distracted and has trouble paying attention and multitasking. In our fast pace media inundated world this can be very challenging. Creating a space where one can go at their own pace, and distractions are limited, can be very helpful (for those with and without a diagnosis).

2. Executive Functioning

One's ability to perform tasks including planning, organizing and making decisions becomes more challenging. Simplifying the environment can be very comforting. Working together on projects can be empowering. As executive functioning decreases, an opportunity for simplification, learning to focus on one thing at a time, and interdependence are created.

3. Memory
This is the most well known cognitive change. In some circles dementia is even called forgetfulness. This is also the most relatable change -- everyone has at one point or another forgotten something. In memory changes with dementia, the brain no longer remembers things the way it once did, nor does it learn things the same way. Recent memories tend to fade first and forgetfulness recedes back in time from there. Time becomes more fluid and specific details shift and lose their weight. When memory is not steadfast and linear the only truth becomes the moment. When we forget, we can learn to be in the moment more.

4. Language

Language shifts in three ways. The first two are a yin-and-yang of language, what are termed expressive and receptive language.

Expressive language
Basically one's ability to call up the word they desire in a given moment. When ones expressive language decreases, words that are available may be used rather than the most obvious word. For example; an elevator become "the up down up down up down."

Receptive language
The opposite; it describes when we hear a word knowing what concept it connects to. For example; the word fork does not connect in the brain to the object fork. These two types of language use do not change equally. Someone may have large changes in their expressive language and no changes in their receptive language or vice versa.

The third way language shifts is in grammar and syntax
These shifts in language are many times tragically perceived as a loss of communication ability. Far from that, they are a shift in the way one communicates. Often in my experience, not having the precise word on hand, or having to describe things in a more poetic way, offers a closer representation of pure communication, adding to the message layers of personality and affect. If one can listen with metaphorical ears, beautiful moments of connection, rather than just frustration, are possible.

5. Perceptual -- Motor

This means understanding what one sees, it has to do with how the brain and eyes speak to each other. For example; one may not be able to connect that a hairbrush is for brushing hair just by seeing the object. This can be particularly frustrating to both the person experiencing the shift and to those around them. This frustration mostly comes from a lack of understanding. Using curiosity to try to understand your experience and how it differs from who you are spending time with is imperative.

6. Social-Cognition

With the phenomenon of dementia there is often a shift in one's social behavior. This can range from perception of others emotions to decreased inhibition. With a shift in social cognition there is less of a filter between thoughts, feelings and actions. All humans have thoughts and feelings that are not socially acceptable. These are often fleeting and most of us have learned not to act on them. As social cognition shifts, and this filter is removed, one acts on these flashes of emotion. The beauty of this, is that one always knows where they stand, there is a brutal honesty of sorts.

It is important to remember that since these are in the moment, that is where they should stay. Just as quickly as our inner thoughts and feelings can change, so do the social behaviors of one with a change in social cognition. When they are acting angry, they are angry, when they are acting sweet and happy, they are sweet and happy. Decreases in social cognition offer a mirror for observing one's inner emotional landscape; they also offer behaviors that can be very telling of unmet needs.

In the phenomenon of dementia these six domains of thinking change at a different pace in every person. For both the person experiencing dementia, and those that care about them, it is important to understand these changes.

When we can make meaning out of behaviors, it can alleviate anxiety and suffering.

All of these can be perceived as 'deficits' but they can also be perceived as changes. Using this gentler viewpoint, there is room for the difficulty associated with these changes to be challenging, yet fruitful. Deficits call to be fixed. Changes call to be embraced and understood.