New stud­ies pro­vide clues to de­men­tia on­set

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ap­peared the Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette:

While re­searchers haven’t yet found a way to pre­vent or cure de­men­tia, in­clud­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease, they’re mak­ing progress on how to catch it early. The find­ings from three new stud­ies, two from the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin and one from Rush Alzheimer’s Dis­ease Cen­ter, are im­por­tant for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing cog­ni­tive de­clines that steal life from the liv­ing and strain the health care sys­tem.

The univer­sity cre­ated the Wis­con­sin Reg­istry for Alzheimer’s Pre­ven­tion to study men and women with fam­ily his­to­ries of de­men­tia. One study found a cor­re­la­tion be­tween hear­ing loss and mild cog­ni­tive de­cline in 9.2 per cent of 783 par­tic­i­pants over four years. Hear­ing loss is easy to mea­sure and could be a read­ily ob­serv­able early-warn­ing sign of de­men­tia.

The study doc­u­mented the hear­ing loss among par­tic­i­pants in late mid­dle age, com­pared to tra­di­tional de­men­tia stud­ies fo­cus­ing on older peo­ple, and that is im­por­tant be­cause treat­ment for de­men­tia should be­gin as early as pos­si­ble.

The sec­ond Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin study found a cor­re­la­tion be­tween di­min­ished oral flu­ency and cog­ni­tive de­cline in about 25 per cent of 264 par­tic­i­pants, who were drawn from the reg­istry and fol­lowed for as long as 10 years.

As with hear­ing de­cline, th­ese are changes that might eas­ily be mea­sured and used as a red flag, per­haps in the gen­eral prac­ti­tioner’s of­fice, where screen­ing for de­men­tia should be­come as com­mon as it is for de­pres­sion and other chronic dis­eases.

In its study, Rush Alzheimer’s Dis­ease Cen­ter, part of the Rush Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Chicago, found a cor­re­la­tion be­tween cog­ni­tive de­clines and older peo­ple who have a higher num­ber of hospi­tal­iza­tions for emer­gency care. This is an­other pos­si­ble warn­ing sign.

The academy called for more re­search into de­men­tia, in­clud­ing stud­ies that fo­cus on dif­fer­ent so­cial groups, such as young adults, with an eye to­ward early de­tec­tion. The Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin and Rush Alzheimer’s Dis­ease Cen­ter re­searchers al­ready were on the case. With more stud­ies like th­ese, the pieces of the Alzheimer’s puz­zle will start to fall into place.

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