Thursday, 29 November 2012

The 'cause' of Alzheimer's is questioned again

I've lost count of the number of times I've read apparently authoritative statements asserting that Alzheimer's disease is caused by the accumulation of amyloid plaques.  This has sometimes been questioned by those who feel that 'tangles' of stuff called 'tau' are a more important cause.  It has also been suggested that the plaques may be the body's attempt to fight the disease.

I've just come across some research that further undermines the conventional view.  Here's the abstract (summary):

According to the “amyloid hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease,” β-amyloid is the primary driving force in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis. Despite the development of many transgenic mouse lines developing abundant β-amyloid-containing plaques in the brain, the actual link between amyloid plaques and neuron loss has not been clearly established, as reports on neuron loss in these models have remained controversial. We investigated transgenic mice expressing human mutant amyloid precursor protein APP751 (KM670/671NL and V717I) and human mutant presenilin-1 (PS-1 M146L). Stereologic and image analyses: revealed substantial age-related neuron loss in the hippocampal pyramidal cell layer of APP/PS-1 double-transgenic mice. The loss of neurons was observed at sites of Aβ aggregation and surrounding astrocytes but, most importantly, was also clearly observed in areas of the parenchyma distant from plaques. These findings point to the potential involvement of more than one mechanism in hippocampal neuron loss in this APP/PS-1 double-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
(Hippocampal Neuron Loss Exceeds Amyloid Plaque Load in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease  -  The American Journal of Pathology)

Interestingly this dates from 2004 so perhaps others have pursued it further.  If not, one wonders why not.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Treasuring what you've still got

Someone was worrying online about her mother who wrote down the names of people in their family and her relationship to them.

I can understand the upset when the list was first discovered, but the positive way to view it is that it's good that she can still read and write and, even better, can reason that if she writes the names down this might help her to remember them.

Personally, I don't worry too much about names. My wife knows who I am (and will probably at some stage not know). She doesn't use my name. So what? She knows who the important people in her life are when she meets them and when I talk about them. These are the things that matter. 

She's not been able to write for a long time. I tried to help her retain the skills involved for as long as possible but it got too frustrating for both of us. I'm almost certain she can't read. At all. But I don't know for sure because when I understood how awful it was for her to be 'tested' (by anybody) I stopped testing her and asking her test-like questions.

One's expectations change. But the important thing is to try and make the most of what you've got - today. You might not have it tomorrow.

The best way to look at it is not 'What have we lost?' but 'What have we still got?'

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Rashes and viruses

My wife's dementia was preceded by many years of ill-health involving viral infections. These often produced ME-like symptoms that were a problem for months at a time. I've discussed these before:

It's always seemed to me possible, if not likely, that these infections have had something to do with the development of the dementia.

For as long as I've known her she has 'broken out' in rashes very frequently, usually when she is ill. They are the kind of rashes, mostly on her back or chest, that often come as quickly as they go.

I've mentioned previously that since she has had the dementia, the viral illnesses have disappeared (though until she started taking Acyclovir, an anti-viral medication, she was having regular herpes outbreaks). But the rashes I'm talking about have continued and often coincide with periods when her dementia symptoms worsen.

I'm going to try and discover whether other people with dementia have similar rashes. I'd be interested to hear whether anyone else with dementia has experienced similar rashes.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Fast-track diagnosis

There's currently a considerable amount of hype about a new state-of-the-art fast-track system for diagnosing dementia (which will of course make some entrepreneurs very rich).  We're told it is very important for people to have an early diagnosis.

I'd like to state an alternative view that I have mentioned before.

1) Even with the most sophisticated scans, it is still true that Dementias can only be properly diagnosed post mortem.

2) The fact above may not even be a fact. Read about the nun study:

My wife was only 'diagnosed' after being investigated by a leading memory clinic for twelve years. Throughout that time she had increasing difficulties. But she also had access, at different points, to two of the much-vaunted small handful of drugs which people awaiting diagnosis and their families understandably have such high hopes for. They didn't help and had unpleasant side-effects.

During those twelve years we got married, our children got married, my wife had her first grandchild, we went on some wonderful holidays, we enjoyed our life together to the fullest extent possible.

If we had had a diagnosis earlier, how would it have helped?

Some people suggest that an early diagnosis would enable you to make the most of the time you have left. I disagree. We had all that precious extra time without an explicit death sentence hanging over us. Our Guru said: 'Live a good life'. That's all you can hope to do, with or without a diagnosis. But I reckon it's been a lot easier without.

And I'm not saying it's been easy!

Finally, because we had such a good 'pre-diagnosis' we've managed to carry on enjoying life when we can, after a fashion. As the early part of this blog details, my wife had a terrible period just after the diagnosis (there's a surprise!) but she has improved since then. (Steady now! People with dementia aren't supposed to improve. It's not allowed.)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


I think it's quite well-known that people with dementia can be quite sensitive to transitions  -  for example, a visitor arriving or leaving.  So sometimes when the person's mood suddenly changes, for better or worse, you can look for any change that has recently taken place.

I've realised that this can be used to advantage.  S was particularly restless one night and I asked her if she needed the toilet.  She is, fortunately, prepared, almost always, to see if she needs the toilet.  On this occasion, it turned out that she didn't, but once she had settled back into bed her mood had changed and I was able to fall asleep to her usual happy 'conversations'.

It's as if a change is rebooting the brain.

When she is noticeably happy, I try to avoid much change so as to prolong that state.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Yet another thing that can cause a sudden decline

I've posted about this before. There are quite a few things that can bring on dementia or can produce a sudden decline in people who already have dementia:

As I've said in this post, there are probably other things, and I've now come across carers who are reporting that the person they were caring for had low sodium levels and that when this problem was addressed there was a big improvement with regard to the dementia symptoms. They were surprised as, until blood tests pointed them in the right direction, they had no idea.