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Dementia is the ‘biggest health challenge of our time’

07/05/2019

In 1906, a German doctor called Alois Alzheimer performed an autopsy on a 55-year-old lady who had profound memory loss. What he discovered was that she had an abnormally shrunken brain, as well as abnormalities in and around her nerve cells. It was the first time that such brain abnormalities had been witnessed and led to the coining of the term “Alzheimer’s disease.” At the time of Alzheimer’s discovery, dementia was rare and something that wasn’t subsequently studied for decades. Fast-forward to today and someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every three seconds, making it the number one cause of dementia. In some wealthier nations today, Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest killers – mainly due to the fact that it’s completely untreatable. In England and Wales, one in eight death certificates nowadays lists dementia as the cause of death, while it is estimated that 50 million people globally are living with the condition. However, as populations in developing countries age, the number of people living with dementia globally is set to soar to 130 million by 2050. But why is dementia more common today? Simply because we are all living longer and age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. Speaking to the BBC recently, Hilary Evans, chief executive of the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “Dementia certainly is the biggest health challenge of our time. It's the one that will continue to rise in terms of prevalence, unless we can do something to stop or cure this disease."

The seven dementia risk factors: How many are you aware of?

07/02/2019

A new study has revealed that half of UK adults cannot name a single dementia risk factor. If asked, how many could you name? The study by Alzheimer's Research UK found that just 1% of UK adults could name the seven known dementia risk or protective factors. Heavy drinking, smoking, genetics, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes are the six dementia risk factors, while physical exercise is a protective factor. According to the study, more than half of UK adults know someone with dementia, yet only half also recognised that the disease is a cause of death. Furthermore, a fifth of people quizzed for the report incorrectly said that dementia is an inevitable part of getting old. Right now, there are more than 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia and that number is expected to top one million by 2025. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for around two-thirds of all cases. Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It is a sad truth that more people are affected by dementia than ever before and half of us now know someone with the condition. Yet despite growing dementia awareness, we must work harder to improve understanding of the diseases that cause it.” You can read the full Alzheimer’s Research UK report here: https://www.dementiastatistics.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Dementia-Attitudes-Monitor-Wave-1-Report.pdf#zoom=100

Too much exercise can negatively impact mental health - study

14/08/2018

A large-scale study has found that just 45 minutes of physical exercise three to five times a week can improve mental wellbeing. [Related reading: People who abstain from alcohol in middle age may have higher risk of dementia] According to the US study of 1.2 million people, people who exercised regularly had fewer “bad days” a month than their non-exercising counterparts. Furthermore, while activities such as cycling, aerobics and team sports had the greatest positive impact, all types of physical activity, including things like doing household chores and looking after kids, were found to improve mental health. Moreover, people who had previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition like depression were found to afford the greatest benefits. The optimal routine identified by the researchers was being physically active for 30 to 60 minutes every second day. More interesting is the researchers’ finding that too much exercise can have a negative impact. Dr Adam Chekroud, study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, said: "Previously, people have believed that the more exercise you do, the better your mental health, but our study suggests that this is not the case. "Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90-minute sessions is associated with worse mental health." The findings of the study are published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal.

People who abstain from alcohol in middle age may have higher risk of dementia

09/08/2018

Alcohol and the amount people drink is the frequent focus of medical studies. However, studying alcohol consumption often results in mixed findings. For example, while drinking too much alcohol can result in liver disease and high blood pressure, other studies have shown that a glass of beer or wine a day can help people live longer. [Related reading: Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding: new study shows possible child cognitive development impact] Now a new study suggests people who abstain from alcohol in middle age may have a heightened risk of dementia later in life. The long-term study, which tracked the health of more than 9,000 civil servants in London, found that middle-aged people who drank over the recommended alcohol limit each week and those who abstained completely were more likely to develop dementia. Specifically, abstinence in midlife was associated with a 45% greater risk of developing dementia compare to people who drank between one and 14 units of alcohol per week. But before you reach for a glass of wine, it should be noted that early life alcohol consumption was not taken into account for the study. People who are teetotal in midlife may have a history of heavy alcohol consumption in their younger years. Indeed, Dr Sara Imarisio, the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “As this study only looked at people’s drinking in midlife, we don’t know about their drinking habits earlier in adulthood, and it is possible that this may contribute to their later life dementia risk.” The results of the study were recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Evidence suggests potential link between Alzheimer’s and herpes

17/07/2018

Genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors are all thought to play a role in causing Alzheimer’s disease. And it’s now looking increasingly likely that we can add certain strains of the herpes virus to that list too. A study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the results of which were recently published in the journal Neuron, found that people with Alzheimer’s disease had higher levels of herpes strains 6A and 7 – two common forms of the virus, but not the ones responsible for genital herpes or cold sores. Alzheimer’s – also commonly referred to as dementia – causes people to lose their memory and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States today. The authors of the study hope their research could one day lead to exciting new Alzheimer’s treatments and help better determine just who is at risk of developing the disease. "The hypothesis that viruses play a part in brain disease is not new, but this is the first study to provide strong evidence based on unbiased approaches and large data sets that lends support to this line of inquiry," National Institute of Aging Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D., said in a statement. The findings of the study reignite an old theory that suggests viruses could impact brain functions long term.

Large study finds link between brain injuries at a young age and dementia later in life

12/04/2018

People who suffer brain injuries have an increased risk of developing dementia in later life, a new study has found. The large study of 2.8 million people found individuals who had at least one traumatic brain injury were 24% more likely to develop dementia than those who hadn’t. Interestingly, the risk was found to be greatest in people who had the brain injury while still in their 20s. These individuals were found to be 63% more likely to suffer from dementia in later life. However, despite the findings of the study, independent experts have said that other lifestyle factors, such as smoking and a lack of exercise, are actually more important. According to Dr Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer's Society, these risk factors “are much easier for all of us to do something about". Nevertheless, the research does show a correlation between brain injuries and dementia. Jesse Fann, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, said: "Our analysis raises some very important issues, in particular that efforts to prevent traumatic brain injury, especially in younger people, may be inadequate considering the huge and growing burden of dementia and the prevalence of TBI worldwide." TBI is the term used to describe a concussion.

Ibuprofen could halt the onset of Alzheimer’s, say researchers

28/03/2018

Ibuprofen is a drug that’s commonly used to treat things like headaches and muscular pain, but new research shows that it could also be effective in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Publishing their findings in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, the research team, led by Dr. Patrick McGeer, CEO of Aurin Biotech in Canada, said ibuprofen could prevent the development of Alzheimer’s in individuals with high levels of Abeta 42. Abeta 42 is a peptide that’s present in saliva which people who are at risk of Alzheimer’s have higher levels of. Because Abeta 42 triggers an inflammatory response, the researchers say ibuprofen, a widely-used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), could be used to halt the process. Furthermore, a simple saliva test would be enough to identify people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. "What we've learned through our research," reports Dr. McGeer, "is that people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer's exhibit the same elevated Abeta 42 levels as people who already have it; moreover, they exhibit those elevated levels throughout their lifetime so, theoretically, they could get tested anytime." Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting around 5.7 million adults in the United States alone. However, this figure is predicted to rise to almost 14 million by 2050.

Brain implant could help Alzheimer’s patients live independently for longer

01/02/2018

Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by progressive memory loss and the deterioration of other cognitive functions. It is thought to affect around 5.4 million adults worldwide and, at present, there is no cure. As a result, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms and helping sufferers lead better lives. However, a new brain implant could help people affected by Alzheimer's to live independently for longer. A recent clinical trial at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre in Columbus investigated how deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy can help Alzheimer's patients. It involves implanting very thin electrical wires into the brain's frontal lobes and sending electrical signals, which are regulated by a device in the person’s chest, to stimulate the relevant brain networks. Following the treatment, one long-term dementia patient, LaVonne, 85, can cook meals, dress herself and organise outings. Speaking about the study, Dr Douglas Scharre, from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre, said: "By stimulating this region of the brain, the Alzheimer's subjects' cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined more slowly than Alzheimer's patients' in a matched comparison group not being treated with [deep brain stimulation]." Further research will now be conducted to see whether the DBS therapy can be used in less invasive, non-surgical ways.

Living Near Busy Roads Could Increase Risk of Dementia

10/01/2017

People who live near busy roads have higher rates of dementia, suggesting that traffic can have an impact on our mental health, according to research recently published in the Lancet. In fact, the research suggests that as many as 11% of dementia cases in people living within 50 metres of a busy road could be down to traffic. For the study, the researchers followed 2 million people in the Canadian province of Ontario over an 11-year period. They found that both noisy traffic and air pollution could be contributing to people's brain decline. UK dementia experts have called the findings "plausible", but also said more research is needed to further investigate any potential link. Over the course of the study, 243,611 cases of dementia were diagnosed. However, the risk was greater for those living near major roads. Compared with people living 300m away from a major road the risk was: 7% higher within 50m 4% higher between 50-100m 2% higher between 101-200m Dr Hong Chen, from Public Health Ontario and one of the report authors, said: "Increasing population growth and urbanisation have placed many people close to heavy traffic, and with widespread exposure to traffic and growing rates of dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure could pose a large public health burden." Dementia is thought to affect around 50 million people worldwide. However, its causes are still not understood.

Game-Changing New Alzheimer's Drug Shows Promise

01/09/2016

A new drug that could stop Alzheimer's disease from ever developing in people is showing "tantalising" promise, scientists say. The breakthrough has been hailed as a "game-changer" in the fight against Alzheimer's and the "best news" in dementia research for 25 years. However, experts are remaining cautious as the drug, aducanumab, is still in the early stages of development. Nevertheless, it produced "unprecedented" results in a clinical trial, the findings of which were recently published in the journal Nature. During the trial, patients who were given the highest dose of aducanumab experienced an almost complete clearance of the characteristic protein plaques, known as amyloid plaques, which cause dementia. A new phase of research will now involve two separate studies, with early-stage Alzheimer's patients from North America, Europe and Asia, to fully test the drug's effects. If further trials show aducanumab to be effective and safe, we could see the first dementia prevention drug made available within just a few years. Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "These results provide tantalising evidence that a new class of drug to treat the disease may be on the horizon." At present, it is thought that there are 850,000 people living with Alzheimer's in Britain alone, and this number is expected to rise to one million by 2025.

Overweight people's brains look 10 years older than those of lean peers

11/08/2016

As people grow older, their brains naturally lose a certain amount of white matter. But new brain scanning research by a team from Cambridge University has found that being overweight exacerbates that loss. Published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, the study revealed that the brains of overweight middle-aged adults appear 10 years older than those of their leaner peers. However, the greater shrinkage in the volume of white matter does not appear to affect cognitive performance. White matter is the part of the brain that transmits information, and is often referred to as "the subway of the brain" because it connects different brain regions together. Obesity has long been linked to a number of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer, but research is increasingly showing that it may also have a negative impact on the brain. Indeed, the Cambridge researchers said that the findings from their study show we need to better understand how extra weight affects the brain. The author of the study, Lisa Ronan, from the University of Cambridge, said: “This study raises the possibility that if you are overweight or obese you may be more susceptible to diseases [linked] to age-related decline such as dementia and Alzheimer’s."

Eating Fish Good for Brain Health, says Study

11/02/2016

People could reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by eating at least one serving of seafood per week, according to new study, which set out to further explore the link between seafood, fatty acids, mercury and dementia. The role of Omega-3 fatty acids in combatting Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia has been lauded by many people for quite some time now. But many sceptics questioned whether the mercury found in fish could cancel out its benefits for protecting against dementia. For the study, researchers surveyed a group of older adults living in the Chicago area. They quizzed them about their diets and, in a subset of almost 300 who died between 2004 and 2013, they carried out brain autopsies to check the levels of mercury present and see if any neurological damage had occurred as a result. The researchers found that while higher levels of mercury were seen in participants who reported eating seafood regularly, they did not appear to have suffered neurological damage as a result. In fact, those participants were found to be less likely to have hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Martha Clare Morris, director of nutrition and nutritional epidemiology at Rush University Medical Centre, who is the lead author of the study, said: "Our hypothesis was that seafood consumption would be associated with less neuropathology, but that if there were higher levels of mercury in the brain, that would work against that. But we didn't find that at all.” The only catch is that the study only observed this benefit among the participants who carried the APOE-4 gene, which is associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, it is possible that eating seafood regularly could also benefit individuals who do not carry the gene. This particular study, however, wasn’t large enough to detect if that is indeed the case.  

A Warped Sense of Humour Could Predict Dementia

12/11/2015

A sudden change in a person’s sense of humour, especially when they become increasingly perceptive to dark or twisted humour, could be an early warning sign of dementia, according to a new study. The results of the study, which was conducted by researchers at University College London, were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and show that a person’s sense of humour can be a good indicator of their mental health. Friend and family of the study subjects were asked to rate their friend or relative’s reaction to different kinds of comedy. Slapstick comedy, such as Mr. Bean, satirical comedy, such as Yes Minister and absurdist comedy, such as Monty Python, were all used for the study, as well as “inappropriate humour”. Dr Camilla Clark, who headed up the team responsible for the research, recruited 48 patients who had previously been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. The team found that dementia patients had a preference for slapstick humour, when compared against 21 healthy people of similar age. Almost all of the patients’ friends and family said they had noticed a change in the patient’s humour over the nine years prior to them being diagnosed. Most notable were preferences for dark humour and inappropriate laughing at tragic events. “These were marked changes – completely inappropriate humour well beyond the realms of even distasteful humour. For example, one man laughed when his wife badly scalded herself,” said Dr Clark. Dr Simon Ridley, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said changes in behaviour should be investigated by an individual’s GP. “While memory loss is often the first thing that springs to mind when we hear the word dementia, this study highlights the importance of looking at the myriad different symptoms that impact on daily life and relationships", he said.  

‘Brain Training’ Good for Older People, says Study

05/11/2015

Older people benefit from playing online games that test their memory and reasoning skills, also known as ‘brain training’, according to a large-scale study. The six month experiment, which was conducted by researchers at King’s College London, involved almost 7,000 individuals aged 50 and over and was launched by the BBC’s Bang Goes The Theory. None of the volunteers who participated in the study had reported any memory or cognition problems and they were recruited from the general population as part of a collaboration between the BBC, the Medical Research Council and the Alzheimer’s Society. The researchers found that mental exercises, such as those undertaken during brain training, helped with everyday skills like cooking and shopping. A baseline was taken by testing the study subjects on a series of medically recognised cognitive tests. The group was then split into two, with one subgroup asked to play online brain training games whenever they wanted for up to 10 minutes at a time. The medically recognised cognitive tests were then redone at three and six months to see if the group which had been playing the online games displayed any detectable differences over the other group. After six months, the group that had been playing the brain games showed broader cognitive skills than those who hadn’t. Dr Doug Brown from the Alzheimer's Society said: "Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multi-million pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do. “While this study wasn't long enough to test whether the brain training package can prevent cognitive decline or dementia, we're excited to see that it can have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks." Bigger, longer studies will now commence to dig deeper into this study’s findings.  

Alzheimer’s Symptoms Could be Improved with Physical Exercise

30/07/2015

Just last week we told you about how a simple saliva test could be used to predict a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And now this year’s Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) in Washington, D.C., has heard how physical exercise not only has the potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, but also effectively treat it as well. Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association, said: “Based on the results we heard reported today at AAIC 2015, exercise or regular physical activity might play a role in both protecting your brain from Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, and also living better with the disease if you have it.” The randomised controlled trials sought to assess whether moderate to high-intensity activity had an effect on 200 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms. The team from the Danish Dementia Research Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, led by Dr. Steen Hasselbalch, found that the group of patients following the exercise programme experienced significantly fewer of the neuropsychiatric symptoms often associated with Alzheimer’s disease. "While our results need to be verified in larger and more diverse groups, the positive effects of exercise on these symptoms that we saw in our study may prove to be an effective complement or combination with antidementia drugs," said Dr. Hasselbach. "This calls for further study of multimodal treatment strategies, including lifestyle and drug therapies." The study further highlights the importance of undertaking physical exercise on a regular basis. The list of proven health benefits is increasing all the time and just a little physical activity now could dramatically improve your life in the future.     Photo credit: Medical News Today

Cataract Surgery Linked to Improvements in Alzheimer’s Patients

22/08/2014

A recent study conducted by researchers at Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals Case Medical Center and MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland has found that Alzheimer’s patients who undergo cataract surgery benefit from an improved quality of life. The preliminary results of the five-year study, which was funded by the National Institute on Ageing, were presented in Copenhagen at the recent Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2014. Traditionally, many Alzheimer’s patients have been denied cataract surgery because the benefits were not known. Hopefully, the outcome of this new study will go some way towards changing the health disparity for Alzheimer’s patients everywhere. The study comprised of 42 Alzheimer’s patients – 28 who had cataract surgery and 14 who didn’t. The findings were that the group who underwent the cataract surgery reported clearer vision, which is to be expected. However,  as a result of this, they also said that their cognitive abilities were not just maintained but actually improved because their brains worked to process and interpret the information that they could now see. Furthermore, the patient’s caregivers also reported benefits from the cataract surgery in that the people in their care were now more mobile and, therefore, independent – something that made the caregivers less stressed. France Surgery can facilitate cataract surgery for you or a loved one. More and more people are choosing to undergo medical procedures abroad in countries such as France because of zero waiting times and highly affordable prices. Contact us today to find out more.

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