Some people may be naturally immune to the effects of the plaques (globs of protein outside cells) and tangles (bits of protein inside cells) that are thought to cause Alzheimer’s. A new study suggests that those same people may have the brain plaque that is the hallmark of the disease…..but they don’t have the symptoms.
In a discovery that challenges conventional thinking, researchers report that several people over the age of 90 had excellent memory even though their brains showed signs that they had Alzheimer’s disease.
The meaning of the findings isn’t entirely clear. The elderly people, whose brains were studied after their deaths, may have been in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, although the researchers said they doubt this. It’s also possible that something about these people — or their brains — could have kept dementia symptoms in check.
“The implication is that factors protect some elderly people” from the brain-clogging proteins that are thought to cause Alzheimer’s, said study author Changiz Geula. He is a research professor of cognitive neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
According to STATnews.com, two primary explanations are emerging as to why some people with “Alzheimer’s brains” are not developing Alzheimer’s.
- One, known as cognitive reserve, holds that if people are well-educated and intellectually engaged throughout life, they won’t show the memory and cognitive impairments that otherwise come with the loss of synapses and death of neurons in the brain’s memory and thinking regions.
- And two…..some people might produce molecules that make amyloid nontoxic, in which case even if plaques build up they don’t destroy synapses. Or, some genetic or other factor might make synapses strong enough to endure even the toxicity of amyloid. If such protective molecules were discovered, they might inspire lab-made versions to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s.
This is a particularly interesting development given that November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Arizona has the 7th highest Alzheimer’s death rate in the country and the disease is the 5th leading cause of death in our state. It is estimated that about 130,000 Arizonans have Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to grow to about 200,000 over the next 10 years. More information (and upcoming events) can be found on the Alzheimer’s Association – Desert Southwest Chapter website.
That makes these new findings of particular importance to the people who live here in our state. Share your thoughts on how this new research might reshape the battle against Alzheimer’s in Arizona. Working together to find innovative solutions to key health issues will go a long way toward helping us reach our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!