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Senior Care News

By: Mendy Hecht

July 30, 2018


For healthy young brain, just breathe!

Dublin, Ireland — The controlled breathing of regular daily meditation has been traditionally known as a brain health booster for millennia.

 

But now, new research at the Dublin-based Institute of Neuroscience may have scientifically found why meditation and focused breathing seems to improve the brain’s focus, concentration, attention and even overall brain health and youthfulness.

 

The research focused on brain levels of a natural hormone called noradrenaline, which is produced by a part of the brain called the locus coerulus in response to stress.  Noradrenaline causes the heart to beat faster and the pupils of the eyes to dilate.

 

Specifically, the researchers studied how controlled breathing affects levels of noradrenaline in the locus coerulus.

 

Researchers scanned the brains and measured pupil dilations of study participants while they performed mental tasks that required great focus.  At the same time, they monitored participants’ breathing, reaction time and brain activity in the locus coerulus.

 

The researchers found that participants focusing better on tasks had better synchronization between breathing patterns and attention.  They also found that activity in the locus coeruleus increased as participants inhaled and decreased as they exhaled.

 

According to lead researcher Michael Melnychuk, too much—or too little—noradrenaline in the brain hampers focus. 

 

But “using our breath to control one of the brain’s natural chemical messengers, noradrenaline, which in the right ‘dose’ helps the brain grow new connections between cells,” helps the brain the hit the “sweet spot” of noradrenaline in which “our emotions, thinking, and memory are much clearer,” he told Medical News Today.

 

The study was published recently in Psychophysiology.

 

 

Thrice-weekly exercise hour boosts older-adult cognition

Miami, FL — A review of 98 existing studies finds that exercising for a full hour three times a week over a six-month period is linked to improvement in specific cognitive skills in seniors.

 

The study of 98 clinical trials found an association between walking, aerobics, strength training, and mind-body exercises like yoga and Tai Chi with improved mental processing speed and executive function in both healthy seniors and those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

 

Only the total length of time over a six-month period was linked to improved cognitive skills, not weekly exercise minutes.

 

The study by the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami was published recently in Neurology: Clinical Practice.

 

 

Alzheimer’s research shifting away from plaques and tangles

Bethesda, MD — Alzheimer’s disease, the brain-wasting condition that robs patients of memories and eventually, daily function, is commonly blamed on plaques and tangles in the brain.

 

Plaques are buildups of a protein called beta-amyloid.  Tangles are buildups of a protein called tau.  Because both are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, it’s long been believed that plaques and tangles are a primary cause of Alzheimer’s. 

 

That’s why research has focused heavily on the association between plaques and tangles and Alzheimer’s for decades—under the belief that reducing or preventing plaques and tangles in the brain can treat Alzheimer’s.

 

However, at the recent National Institute on Aging (NIA) 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summit held here, precision medicine in Alzheimer’s—meaning, tailoring prevention and treatment to each patient’s unique risk profile—emerged as a key theme.

 

That development is driven by increasing Alzheimer’s research into areas other than plaques and tangles.  These include genetic and environmental risk factors, and the connection between the brain and bacteria in the gut (a.k.a. the microbiome).

 

At the same time, several high-profile clinical trials on experimental new Alzheimer’s drugs recently failed. 

 

On June 12, pharmaceutical giants Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca discontinued a joint trial of lanabecestat, a so-called BACE inhibitor.  The drug, should it have worked, would have interrupted the development of brain plaques and tangles at an earlier stage.

 

This May, Johnson & Johnson discontinued research into atabecestat, its own BACE inhibitor.  And in April, vTv Therapeutics Inc. announced that study participants taking its experimental Alzheimer’s drug azeliragon did no better than those getting a placebo.