The Top Brain Health Stories of 2018

MemoryMeals | Dec 13, 2018 | Brain Health & Research

Brain health continued to be a growing topic of interest in 2018. An army of caregivers and health professionals seeking answers about the issue of memory loss in seniors, as well as an aging population concerned about their own cognitive health prospects, kept brain health in the headlines throughout the year. Here’s a recap of some of the top stories that point to trends and advances concerning this critical senior living issue, with news that promises to change the brain health landscape in 2019 and beyond.

SPRINT MIND study shows link between high blood pressure and risk of cognitive impairment.

In its August 20, 2018 issue, TIME magazine devoted its Health section to the results of a new trial led by researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine. The SPRINT MIND study observed nearly 10,000 older adults with heart issues over a period of three years as they were instructed to control their blood pressure. During this time they were tested on various cognitive skills, including memory.

The results were striking since they provided solid confirmation that lowering blood pressure also lowers the risk of both mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and probable dementia. Those results support another recent study at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center that connected the presence of brain lesions and tau protein tangles with people who had a long history of high blood pressure. This opens the door to treating Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia using a combination of therapies, such as changes in diet, lifestyle adjustments and the use of hypertension drugs working in tandem for heart and brain health.

Increasing evidence of gut health-brain health connection.

The complex relationship between the health of the gut and the rest of the body continues to be a source of exciting research. This year saw a report on the largest ever microbiome study, the American Gut Project. This was a crowd-sourced effort, with over 10,000 volunteers sending in fecal samples and details of their health histories and their diets to a team of researchers.

The analysis explored a number of different observations, including a remarkable association between gut bacteria and mental health conditions. Specifically, similar bacteria types tended to be shared by people with depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In a related story with a sci-fi twist, scientists in Australia this year completed the first human trials of swallowable sensor capsules that can report on gut health from inside the body and send the data to a mobile phone. This points to a future noninvasive way to analyze one of the central gateways to human health — and the human brain.

US burden of Alzheimer’s and other dementias to double by 2060.

According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people with Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia will double by 2060, a span of a little more than two decades. The projected increase will represent 13.9 million people suffering from dementia, nearly 3.3% of the total US population. Ironically, the increases are due to better healthcare and fewer people dying from other chronic diseases. Seniors who might have otherwise died from cancer, heart disease or other conditions will find themselves aging into a cohort of the population where the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias increases.

The CDC study was also the first to forecast Alzheimer’s disease by race and ethnicity. Among people ages 65 and older, African Americans have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (13.8 percent), followed by Hispanics (12.2 percent), and non-Hispanic whites (10.3 percent), American Indian and Alaska Natives (9.1 percent), and Asian and Pacific Islanders (8.4 percent).

Famous faces are taking dementia diagnosis out of the shadows.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announcing she has been diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s disease. Billionaire media mogul Ted Turner revealing he is battling Lewy body dementia. Jeopardy host Alex Trebek admitting he has been tested for Alzheimer’s after experiencing memory lapses. 2018 saw more public figures than ever report honestly on how dementia has touched their lives, a trend that promises to promote greater awareness and remove some of the stigma for individuals and families affected by severe cognitive decline.

Many health professionals feel that this kind of openness about cognitive decline could encourage more people to seek out earlier diagnoses. It also puts a familiar face on a condition that can still be a cause of shame and fear for many people.

Notables like Justice O’Connor and Ted Turner follow other celebrities in recent years, such as singer Glen Campbell, actor Gene Wilder, and championship basketball coach Pat Summitt, whose families went public with Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnoses is to help educate and inform. Other public figures have come forward in their role as advocates for loved ones with dementia, such as actors Victor Garber, Seth Rogen and Jodie Foster, travel writer Rick Steves, and broadcast journalist Maria Shriver.

The trend began in 1994, when Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy disclosed the former president had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in a letter stating, “We hope this might provide greater awareness of this condition [and] encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.”

References:

SPRINT MIND Study:

http://time.com/5362176/alzheimers-prevention/

Gut-Brain Health:

https://newatlas.com/largest-microbiome-gut-bacteria-study/54632/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180108121625.htm

CDC 2060 Study:

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0920-alzheimers-burden-double-2060.html

Celebrities and Dementia:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/09/health/alzheimers-dementia-celebrities.html