Holding on to Memory

Brain cells delay onset of Alzheimer's symptoms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The human brain loses a fair amount of weight over the course of a person's adult life. But the brain's ability to reorganize itself (called plasticity) makes up for lost cells and may help Alzheimer's patients.

Researchers wanted to find out if they could make other brain cells take over for the brain cells affected by Alzheimer's disease. This would allow Alzheimer's patients to enjoy a few more years without feeling the symptoms of the disease.

dailyRx Insight: Healthy areas of the brain may help memory loss.

Using a simple memory training program on patients, the researchers found that they were able to temporarily reassign unaffected brain cells to take over for the functions of cells already affected by Alzheimer's. What's more, the researchers found that people with an extremely high risk of Alzheimer's (those with mild cognitive impairment) showed a remarkable improvement in memory tasks.

For their study, Dr. Sylvie Belleville, Ph.D., Director of Research at the Institut Universitaire de Geriatric de Montrál, and colleagues assessed 15 healthy elderly adults and 15 elderly adults with mild cognitive impairment - a condition that increases the risk of Alzheimer's ten-fold. After putting participants through a memory training program, the researchers found that brain areas associated with memory showed increased activity in patients with mild cognitive impairment. They also saw increased activity in other areas of the brain associated with language, spatial and object memory, and skill learning.

Dr. Belleville sums up the findings: "The healthy area of the brain has taken over for the area that is compromised."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in the United States affecting approximately 5.3 million people, and the number is growing. Alzheimer’s results in memory loss, decline in cognitive functioning, and behavioral changes. Alzheimer's disease is usually diagnosed clinically from the patient history, statements from relatives, and clinical observations. There is no cure, and treatment efforts are aimed at slowing the progression of the disease and treating its symptoms. Prescription medications such as Namenda® (NMDA receptor antagonist) and Aricept® (cholinesterase inhibitor) have been shown to slow progression by altering the amounts of certain neurotransmitters in the brain to improve neuronal communication.

The study by Belleville's team is published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 23, 2011
Last Updated:
March 24, 2011