Glen Campbell's Grammy Stop Showcases Alzheimer's Battle
Pop and country music legend Glen Campbell may have given his most breathtaking performance at Sunday night's 2012 Grammy Awards, when he joined Blake Shelton and The Band Perry onstage to perform his 1975 hit, "Rhinestone Cowboy." It wasn't Campbell's voice -- once a silky-smooth tenor, now rumbling in the lower registers -- that moved the audience to respond with a standing ovation.
Instead, it was the onetime chart-topping singer's bravery in soldiering in the face of early-stage Alzheimer's Disease. Campbell announced his diagnosis last year.
Campbell's struggle with Alzheimer's touched a chord with many Grammy viewers and put a human face on the fight against the disease. Medical researchers continue to search for treatments to slow the disease's progression or a cure that has thus far eluded them.
Here are some of the latest news and developments.
1. President proposes more money for research and help for caregivers. Last week, President Obama said he would ask Congress to approve an additional $50 million this year and $80 million in 2013 for Alzheimer's research to augment the $50 million that the National Institutes of Health currently spends. Additionally, the proposal calls for $26 million to help families struggling to care for Alzheimer's patients, in part by providing better training for health-care providers on how to support their efforts.
"Without a cure or more effective treatment, Alzheimer's is expected to grow more prevalent as the population ages," says Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement on the White House website. "Failure to invest now will place significant strain on our nation's health-care resources in future years."
The Alzheimer's Foundation of America applauded the administration's proposal, noting it comes at a time of increased pressure to curb government spending. "This type of investment is critical so that it doesn't cost the government, as well as families, more in the long run," says foundation president and CEO Eric J. Hall.
2. Study offers insight into how Alzheimer's spreads through the brain. A new study by Columbia University researchers, published in the online scientific journal PloS One, reveals that Alzheimer's tends to begin in one location in the brain and then spread to connected areas, literally hopping from neuron to neuron during the disease's rampage. This revelation suggests there may be a way to stop the disease in its tracks before it can inflict significant damage. "The most effective approach may be to treat Alzheimer's the way we treat cancer -- through early detection and treatment, before it has a chance to spread," says study co-author Dr. Scott Small.
3. Scientists seek to understand the disease's genetic roots. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in another article published in the same issue of PLoS One, report that the same genetic mutations found in early-onset Alzheimer's also are found in people with the more common late-onset form of the illness. The study, which looked at five specific genes in members of 440 families with a history of multiple Alzheimer's cases, confirms that both forms of Alzheimer's, which some researchers once suspected might be separate disorders with different causes, most likely are the same illness. The research lends weight to arguments that the disease's cause may be primarily genetic. (From the National Institutes of Health, here's a primer on the genetics of Alzheimer's.)
The discovery could pave the way for additional studies that could lead to a reliable genetic test that could predict both early- and late-onset variations of Alzheimer's. Currently, genetic testing is only able to indicate a risk of developing the rare early-onset form.
4. Is Alzheimer's related to sleep disturbances? CBS News reports that researchers have found that people who awaken frequently during the night are more likely to have "preclinical" Alzheimer's, in which they still exhibit normal mental skills but have changes in the brain that are associated with the disease. Lest chronic insomniacs and compulsive coffee addicts fear the worst, however, the scientists emphasize that they're still unclear about whether sleep disturbances contribute to the brain disorder or the disruptions are a symptom.
5. Can a healthier lifestyle stave off dementia? Though there's evidence that Alzheimer's has a genetic component, other research also suggests an important role for other factors -- some of which people may be able to control with dietary changes and other lifestyle modifications, according to this Seattle Times article. Diabetics, for example, have two to three times the risk of developing Alzheimer's, possibly because their impaired ability to make insulin contributes to neurological degeneration. As a result, some neuroscientists recommend eating fewer carbohydrates and making an effort to reduce stress -- which also can drive up glucose levels in the bloodstream, according to the National Diabetes Association. In addition, some researchers also recommend a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain chemicals such as polyphenols and antioxidants, which have been shown to boost brain health. A 2007 study suggests that obese people also face two to three times the risk of developing Alzheimer's or vascular dementia, which has similar effects, than people with a healthy body-mass index. So watching your weight may help protect your brain.
6. Another reason to drink coffee -- protection against Alzheimer's? Dating back to Jack LaLanne's heyday, health food enthusiasts have warned about the supposed dangers of coffee drinking. But a 2011 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that in mice who carried human genes inserted by researchers, caffeine consumption actually helped stave off cognitive losses caused by Alzheimer's and reduced the depositing of the amyloids -- that is, waste proteins -- that are found in patients suffering from the disease. So your morning cup of joe may actually be good for your brain, as well as your mood.
Read more: 7 Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy
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