Chapter 13. Memory, Learning, and Development

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By Jessica Boddy Memory researchers have shone light into a cognitive limbo. A new memory—the name of someone you've just met, for example—is held for seconds in so-called working memory, as your brain's neurons continue to fire. If the person is important to you, the name will over a few days enter your long-term memory, preserved by permanently altered neural connections. But where does it go during the in-between hours, when it has left your standard working memory and is not yet embedded in long-term memory? In Science, a research team shows that memories can be resurrected from this limbo. Their observations point to a new form of working memory, which they dub prioritized long-term memory, that exists without elevated neural activity. Consistent with other recent work, the study suggests that information can somehow be held among the synapses that connect neurons, even after conventional working memory has faded. "This is a really fundamental find—it's like the dark matter of memory," says Geoffrey Woodman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who was not involved with the work. "It's hard to really see it or measure it in any clear way, but it has to be out there. Otherwise, things would fly apart." Cognitive neuroscientist Nathan Rose and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin (UW) in Madison initially had subjects watch a series of slides showing faces, words, or dots moving in one direction. They tracked the resulting neural activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and, with the help of a machine learning algorithm, showed they could classify the brain activity associated with each item. Then the subjects viewed the items in combination—a word and face, for example—but were cued to focus on just one item. At first, the brain signatures of both items showed up, as measured in this round with electroencephalography (EEG). But neural activity for the uncued item quickly dropped to baseline, as if it had been forgotten, whereas the EEG signature of the cued item remained, a sign that it was still in working memory. Yet subjects could still quickly recall the uncued item when prompted to remember it a few seconds later. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22947 - Posted: 12.03.2016

Rosie Mestel The 2016 US election was a powerful reminder that beliefs tend to come in packages: socialized medicine is bad, gun ownership is a fundamental right, and climate change is a myth — or the other way around. Stances that may seem unrelated can cluster because they have become powerful symbols of membership of a group, says Dan Kahan, who teaches law and psychology at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut. And the need to keep believing can further distort people’s perceptions and their evaluation of evidence. Here, Kahan tells Nature about the real-world consequences of group affinity and cognitive bias, and about research that may point to remedies. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. One measure is how individualistic or communitarian people are, and how egalitarian or hierarchical. Hierarchical and individualistic people tend to have confidence in markets and industry: those represent human ingenuity and power. People who are egalitarian and communitarian are suspicious of markets and industry. They see them as responsible for social disparity. It’s natural to see things you consider honourable as good for society, and things that are base, as bad. Such associations will motivate people’s assessment of evidence. Can you give an example? In a study, we showed people data from gun-control experiments and varied the results1. People who were high in numeracy always saw when a study supported their view. If it didn’t support their view, they didn’t notice — or argued their way out of it. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 22946 - Posted: 12.03.2016

Erika Check Hayden Physicians may soon have a lot more help in treating newborns. Neuroscientists and physicians have embarked on what they hope will be a revolution in treatments to prevent brain damage in newborn babies. As many as 800,000 babies die each year when blood and oxygen stop flowing to the brain around the time of birth. And thousands develop brain damage that causes long-lasting mental or physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. Physicians have few tools to prevent this, but they are optimistic that clinical trials now under way will change things. The trials were sparked by neuroscientists’ realization in the 1990s that some brain injuries can be repaired. That discovery spurred a flurry of basic research that is just now coming to fruition in the clinic. In January, a US study will start to test whether the hormone erythropoietin, or EPO, can prevent brain damage hours after birth when combined with hypothermia, in which babies are cooled to 33.5 °C. A trial in Australia is already testing this treatment. Physicians in countries including the United States, China and Switzerland are testing EPO in premature babies, as well as other treatments, such as melatonin, xenon, argon, magnesium, allopurinol and cord blood in full-term babies. “The world has really changed for us,” says neurologist Janet Soul at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts. Therapeutic hypothermia was the first success: clinical trials over the past decade have shown that it decreases the risk of death and of major brain-development disorders by as much as 60%. It is now standard treatment for babies in developed countries whose brains are deprived of blood and oxygen during birth. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22935 - Posted: 11.30.2016

Anya Kamenetz Brains, brains, brains. One thing we've learned at NPR Ed is that people are fascinated by brain research. And yet it can be hard to point to places where our education system is really making use of the latest neuroscience findings. But there is one happy nexus where research is meeting practice: bilingual education. "In the last 20 years or so, there's been a virtual explosion of research on bilingualism," says Judith Kroll, a professor at the University of California, Riverside. Again and again, researchers have found, "bilingualism is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime," in the words of Gigi Luk, an associate professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. At the same time, one of the hottest trends in public schooling is what's often called dual-language or two-way immersion programs. Traditional programs for English-language learners, or ELLs, focus on assimilating students into English as quickly as possible. Dual-language classrooms, by contrast, provide instruction across subjects to both English natives and English learners, in both English and in a target language. The goal is functional bilingualism and biliteracy for all students by middle school. New York City, North Carolina, Delaware, Utah, Oregon and Washington state are among the places expanding dual-language classrooms. © 2016 npr

Keyword: Language; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22934 - Posted: 11.30.2016

By Andy Coghlan Don’t go to bed angry. Now there’s evidence for this proverb: it’s harder to suppress bad memories if you sleep on them. The discovery could reveal new ways to treat people who suffer from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, and reinforces an earlier idea that it is possible to suppress bad memories through sleep deprivation. “The results are of major interest for treating the frequent clinical problem of unwanted memories, memories of traumatic events being the most prominent example,” says Christoph Nissen at the University of Freiburg Medical Center in Germany, who was not involved in the work. In the study, 73 male students memorised 26 mugshots, each paired with a disturbing image, such as a mutilated body, corpse or crying child. The next day they were asked to recall the images associated with half the mugshots and actively try to exclude memories of the rest of the associated images. The group were then directed to memorise another 26 pairs of mugshots and nasty images. Half an hour later they again thought about half the associated images and actively suppressed memories of the rest. Finally, they were asked to describe the image associated with each of the 52 mugshots. The idea was to see if trying to suppress a bad memory works better before or after sleep. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Sleep; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22933 - Posted: 11.30.2016

By Dwayne Godwin, Jorge Cham © 2016 Scientific American,

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Trophic Factors
Link ID: 22914 - Posted: 11.26.2016

Alison Abbott & Elie Dolgin A drug that was seen as a major test of the leading theory behind Alzheimer’s disease has failed in a large trial of people with mild dementia. Critics of the ‘amyloid hypothesis’, which posits that the disease is triggered by a build-up of amyloid protein in the brain, have seized on the results as evidence of its weakness. But the jury is still out on whether the theory will eventually yield a treatment. Proponents of the theory note that the particular way in which solanezumab, the drug involved in the trial, works could have led to the failure, rather than a flaw in the hypothesis itself. And many trials are ongoing to test whether solanezumab — or others that target amyloid — could work in people at risk of the disease who have not yet shown symptoms, or even in people with Alzheimer’s, despite the latest negative result. “I’m extremely disappointed for patients, but this, for me, doesn’t change the way I think about the amyloid hypothesis,” says Reisa Sperling, a neurologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. She is leading one of several ongoing ‘prevention’ trials that is testing solanezumab, and other drugs that aim to reduce the build-up of amyloid ‘plaques’, in people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Solanezumab is an antibody that mops up amyloid proteins from the blood and cerebrospinal fluid. The proteins can go on to form plaques in the brain. Eli Lilly, the company that developed solanezumab, announced on 23 November that it would abandon the drug as a treatment for patients with mild dementia. The outcome adds to a long list of promising Alzheimer’s drugs that have flopped in the clinic, many of which, like solanezumab, targeted amyloid. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22912 - Posted: 11.25.2016

By Virginia Morell At last, scientists may have an answer to a question every dog owner asks: Does your pet remember the things you do together? For people, at least, the ability to consciously recall personal experiences and events is thought to be linked to self-awareness. It shapes how we think about the past—and how we predict the future. Now, a new study suggests that dogs also have this type of memory, indicating that the talent may be more common in other animals than previously recognized. The study, “is a creative approach to trying to capture what’s on a dog’s mind,” says Alexandra Horowitz, a dog cognition scientist at Barnard College in New York City who was not involved in the research. The idea that nonhuman animals can consciously remember things they’ve done or witnessed in the past, called episodic memory, is controversial—largely because it’s thought that these animals aren’t self-aware. But scientists have shown that species like Western scrub jays, hummingbirds, rats, and the great apes—those that have to recall complex sequences of information in order to survive—have “episodiclike” memory. For instance, the jays remember what food they’ve hidden, where they stashed it, when they did so, and who was watching while they did it. But what about recalling things that aren’t strictly necessary for survival, or someone else’s actions? To find out whether dogs can remember such details, scientists asked 17 owners to teach their pets a trick called “do as I do.” The dogs learned, for instance, that after watching their owner jump in the air, they should do the same when commanded to “do it!” © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22906 - Posted: 11.25.2016

By PAM BELLUCK It is the news that doctors and families in the heart of Zika territory had feared: Some babies not born with the unusually small heads that are the most severe hallmark of brain damage as a result of the virus have developed the condition, called microcephaly, as they have grown older. The findings were reported in a study of 13 babies in Brazil that was published Tuesday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. At birth, none of the babies had heads small enough to receive a diagnosis of microcephaly, but months later, 11 of them did. For most of those babies, brain scans soon after birth showed significant abnormalities, and researchers found that as the babies aged, their brains did not grow or develop enough for their age and body size. The new study echoes another published this fall, in which three babies were found to have microcephaly later in their first year. As they closed in on their first birthdays, many of the babies also had some of the other developmental and medical problems caused by Zika infection, a range of disabilities now being called congenital Zika syndrome. The impairments resemble characteristics of cerebral palsy and include epileptic seizures, muscle and joint problems and difficulties swallowing food. “There are some areas of great deficiency in the babies,” said Dr. Cynthia Moore, the director of the division of congenital and developmental disorders for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an author of the new study. “They certainly are going to have a lot of impairment.” Dr. Deborah Levine, a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School who has studied Zika but was not involved in either study, said there would most likely be other waves of children whose brains were affected by the Zika infection, but not severely enough to be noticed in their first year. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22903 - Posted: 11.23.2016

Laura Sanders Harmful factors circulating in old blood may be partly responsible for the mental decline that can come with age, a small study in mice suggests. Irina Conboy of the University of California, Berkeley and colleagues devised a new way to mingle blood in two mice that didn’t involve stitching their bodies together, as in previous experiments (SN: 5/31/14, p. 8). Instead, researchers used a microfluidic device to shuttle blood, a process that precisely controlled the timing and amount of blood transferred between the mice. The method, reported online November 22 in Nature Communications, allows more precise tests of blood’s influence on aging, the researchers believe. Old mice benefited in some ways from infusions of young blood, experiments with four young-old pairs of mice revealed. With young blood around, old muscles were better able to recover after an injury. And young blood seemed to improve old livers in some tests. But young blood didn’t seem to help one measure of brain health. After transfusions of young blood, old mice still had lower numbers of newborn nerve cells in the hippocampus, a brain structure important for learning and memory. What’s more, old blood reduced the number of newborn nerve cells in young mice. This damage happened quickly, after just one blood exchange, the researchers found. The results suggest that old blood contains components that harm brain cells, an insight that makes scientists eager to identify those factors. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22898 - Posted: 11.23.2016

By GINA KOLATA Despite fears that dementia rates were going to explode as the population grows older and fatter, and has more diabetes and high blood pressure, a large nationally representative survey has found the reverse. Dementia is actually on the wane. And when people do get dementia, they get it at older and older ages. Previous studies found the same trend but involved much smaller and less diverse populations like the mostly white population of Framingham, Mass., and residents of a few areas in England and Wales. The new study found that the dementia rate in Americans 65 and older fell by 24 percent over 12 years, to 8.8 percent in 2012 from 11.6 percent in 2000. That trend is “statistically significant and impressive,” said Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania who was not associated with the study. In 2000, people received a diagnosis of dementia at an average age of 80.7; in 2012, the average age was 82.4. “The dementia rate is not immutable,” said Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging. “It can change.” And that “is very good news,” said John Haaga, director of the institute’s division of behavioral and social research. It means, he said, that “roughly a million and a half people aged 65 and older who do not have dementia now would have had it if the rate in 2000 had been in place.” Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association, said the group had been encouraged by some of the previous research showing a decline but had also been “a little bit nervous” about drawing conclusions because the populations in the earlier studies were so homogeneous. Now, he said of the new data, “here is a nationally representative study. It’s wonderful news.” © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22896 - Posted: 11.22.2016

By JAN HOFFMAN BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Crosby J. Gardner has never had a girlfriend. Now 20 and living for the first time in a dorm here at Western Kentucky University, he has designed a fast-track experiment to find her. He ticks off the math. Two meals a day at the student dining hall, three courses per meal. Girls make up 57 percent of the 20,068 students. And so, he sums up, gray-blue eyes triumphant, if he sits at a table with at least four new girls for every course, he should be able to meet all 11,439 by graduation. “I’m Crosby Gardner!” he announces each time he descends upon a fresh group, trying out the social-skills script he had practiced in the university’s autism support program. “What is your name and what is your major?” The first generation of college students with an autism diagnosis is fanning out to campuses across the country. These growing numbers reflect the sharp rise in diagnosis rates since the 1990s, as well as the success of early-learning interventions and efforts to include these students in mainstream activities. But while these young adults have opportunities that could not have been imagined had they been born even a decade earlier, their success in college is still a long shot. Increasingly, schools are realizing that most of these students will not graduate without comprehensive support like the Kelly Autism Program at Western Kentucky. Similar programs have been taking root at nearly 40 colleges around the country, including large public institutions like Eastern Michigan University, California State University, Long Beach, the University of Connecticut and Rutgers. For decades, universities have provided academic safety nets to students with physical disabilities and learning challenges like dyslexia. But students on the autism spectrum need a web of support that is far more nuanced and complex. © 2016 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 22894 - Posted: 11.21.2016

Ian Sample Science editor A leading psychologist whose research on human memory exposed her to death threats, lawsuits, personal abuse and a campaign to have her sacked has won a prestigious prize for her courage in standing up for science. Professor Elizabeth Loftus endured a torrent of abuse from critics who objected to her work on the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimonies, and her defining research on how people can develop rich memories for events that never happened. The work propelled Loftus into the heart of the 1990 “memory wars”, when scores of people who had gone into therapy with depression, eating disorders and other common psychological problems, came out believing they had recovered repressed memories for traumatic events, often involving childhood abuse. Loftus, now a professor of law and cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine, performed a series of experiments that showed how exposure to inaccurate information and leading questions could corrupt eyewitness testimonies. More controversially, she demonstrated how therapy and hypnosis could plant completely false childhood memories in patients. She went on to become an expert witness or consultant for hundreds of court cases. In the 1990s, thousands of repressed memory cases came to light, with affected patients taking legal action against family members, former neighbours, doctors, dentists and teachers. The accusations tore many families apart. As an expert witness in such cases, Loftus came under sustained attack from therapists and patients who were convinced the new-found memories were accurate. The abuse marked a distinct shift away from the good-natured debates she was used to having in academic journals. © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22890 - Posted: 11.19.2016

Nicola Davis Smart bottles that dispense the correct dose of medication at the correct time, digital assistants, and chairs that know how long you’ve sat in them are among the devices set to change the face of care for those living with dementia. Dementia is now the leading cause of death in England and Wales, and is thought to affect more than 850,000 people in the UK. But a new wave of connected devices, dubbed “the internet of things”, could offer new ways to help people live independently for longer. “We have got an elderly population, and children in their 40s and 50s are looking after their elderly parents – and they may not have the capabilities to coordinate that care effectively,” said Idris Jahn, head of health and data at IoTUK, a programme within the government-backed Digital Catapult. While phone calls and text messages help to keep people in touch, says Jahn, problems can still arise, from missed appointments to difficulties in taking medication correctly. But he adds, connected sensors and devices that collect and process data in real time could help solve the problem. “For [people living with dementia] the sensors would be more in the environment itself, so embedded into the plug sockets, into the lights – so it is effectively invisible. You carry on living your life but in the background things will monitor you and provide feedback to people who need to know,” he said. “That might be your carer, it might be your family, it might be your clinician.” The approach, he added, has the potential to change the way care is given. “It is having that cohesive mechanism to put everyone into the loop, which I think hasn’t existed in the past and it is something that people need.” © 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22887 - Posted: 11.19.2016

Laura Sanders SAN DIEGO — Mice raised in cages bombarded with glowing lights and sounds have profound brain abnormalities and behavioral trouble. Hours of daily stimulation led to behaviors reminiscent of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, scientists reported November 14 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Certain kinds of sensory stimulation, such as sights and sounds, are known to help the brain develop correctly. But scientists from Seattle Children’s Research Institute wondered whether too much stimulation or stimulation of the wrong sort could have negative effects on the growing brain. To mimic extreme screen exposure, mice were blasted with flashing lights and TV audio for six hours a day. The cacophony began when the mice were 10 days old and lasted for six weeks. After the end of the ordeal, scientists examined the mice’s brains. “We found dramatic changes everywhere in the brain,” said study coauthor Jan-Marino Ramirez. Mice that had been stimulated had fewer newborn nerve cells in the hippocampus, a brain structure important for learning and memory, than unstimulated mice, Ramirez said. The stimulation also made certain nerve cells more active in general. Stimulated mice also displayed behaviors similar to some associated with ADHD in children. These mice were noticeably more active and had trouble remembering whether they had encountered an object. The mice also seemed more inclined to take risks, venturing into open areas that mice normally shy away from, for instance. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Vision
Link ID: 22876 - Posted: 11.16.2016

By Jessica Hamzelou You’ve got a spare hour before a big exam. How should you spend it? It seems napping is just as effective as revising, and could even have a longer-lasting impact. Repeatedly revising information to learn it makes sense. “Any kind of reactivation of a memory trace will lead to it being strengthened and reconsolidated,” says James Cousins at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. “With any memory, the more you recall it, the stronger the memory trace.” However, sleep is also thought to be vital for memory. A good night’s sleep seems to help our brains consolidate what we’ve learned in the day, and learning anything when you’re not well rested is tricky. Many people swear by a quick afternoon kip. So if you’ve got an hour free, is it better to nap or revise? Cousins, along with Michael Chee and their colleagues, also at Duke-NUS Medical School, set out to compare the two options. The team mocked-up a real student experience, and had 72 volunteers sit through presentations of about 12 different species of ants and crabs. The participants were asked to learn all about these animals, including their diets and habitats, for example. After 80 minutes of this, the students were given an hour to either watch a film, have a nap, or revise what they had just learned. After this hour, they had another 80 minutes of learning. Then they had to sit an exam in which they were asked 360 questions about the ants and the crabs. “The napping group got the best scores,” says Cousins, whose work was presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, California on Tuesday. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Sleep; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22871 - Posted: 11.16.2016

By Jessica Hamzelou Having an agile mind in your 90s might sound like wishful thinking, but some people manage to retain youthful memories until their dying days. Now post mortems have revealed that these “superagers” manage to do this even when their brains have the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s diseases. Superagers have the memory and cognition of the average person almost half their age, and manage to avoid Alzheimer’s symptoms. Aras Rezvanian at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, and his colleagues have been looking at brain samples donated by such people to try to understand what their secret might be. The group looked at eight brains, all from people who had lived into their 90s, and had memory and cognition scores of the average 50-year-old until their final days. Specifically, the team studied two brain regions – the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, and the prefrontal cortex, which is key for cognition. They found that the brain samples of the superagers had plaques and tangles in them to varying degrees. These are sticky clumps and twisted fibres of protein that seem to be linked to the death of neurons, and are usually found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease after they die. Of the eight superager samples, two had such a high density and distribution of these proteins that they resembled the most severe cases of Alzheimer’s. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22868 - Posted: 11.15.2016

Tom Siegfried SAN DIEGO — Babies as young as 5 months old possess networks of brain cell activity that react to facial emotions, especially fear, a new study finds. “Networks for recognizing facial expressions are in place shortly after birth,” Catherine Stamoulis of Harvard Medical School said November 13 during a news conference at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. “This work … is the first evidence that networks that are involved in a function that is critical to survival, such as the recognition of facial expressions, come online very early in life.” Stamoulis and colleagues at Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital analyzed a database of brain electrical activity collected from 58 infants as they aged from 5 months to 3 years. Brain activity was measured as the infants viewed pictures of female faces expressing happiness, anger or fear. Computer models of the brain activity showed that networks responding to fear were activated much more dramatically than those for happy or angry faces, even in the youngest infants. As babies grew older, their brain networks responding to facial emotions became less complex as redundant nerve cell connections were pruned. But the fear network remained more complex than the others, and response to fearful faces remained elevated over time. Understanding the brain circuitry involved in responding to emotional facial expressions could have implications for research on developmental disorders, Stamoulis said. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2016.

Keyword: Emotions; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 22866 - Posted: 11.15.2016

Kathleen Taylor The global rise in dementia should surprise no one. The figures — such as the 9.9 million new diagnoses each year — have been known for decades. As slow as we are to accept such vast changes on a personal, societal and political level, so research is slow to uncover why our brains become fragile with age. Neuroscientist and writer Kathleen Taylor's The Fragile Brain is about that research. But it is much more than a simple reflection on the best published hypotheses. Taylor has crafted a personal, astonishingly coherent review of our current state of knowledge about the causes of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, as well as possible solutions, from lifestyle adjustments to drug developments. Filled with elegant metaphors, her study covers the detail of molecular biology and larger-scale analysis, including epidemiological observations and clinical studies. It extends to dementia due to multiple sclerosis, stroke and encephalitis. For instance, some 5–30% of people who have a first stroke develop dementia. But the book's focus is Alzheimer's disease, and rightly so: it is what up to 80% of people with dementia are diagnosed with. Taylor begins with a shocking juxtaposition, setting the costs of age-related disorders and of dementia alongside the scarcity in funding. In Britain, Australia and the United States, for example, funding for dementia research is a fraction of that for cancer — in the United States, just 18%. She contextualizes with reflections on the history of dementia research, deftly unravelling the roles of pioneering scientists Alois Alzheimer, Franz Nissl and Emil Kraepelin in describing the condition. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 22851 - Posted: 11.10.2016

Elie Dolgin There are not a lot of things that could bring together people as far apart on the US political spectrum as Republican Newt Gingrich and Democrat Bob Kerrey. But in 2007, after leading a three-year commission that looked into the costs of care for elderly people, the political rivals came to full agreement on a common enemy: dementia. At the time, there were fewer than 30 million people worldwide diagnosed with the condition, but it was clear that the numbers were set to explode. By 2050, current predictions suggest, it could reach more than 130 million, at which point the cost to US health care alone from diseases such as Alzheimer’s will probably hit US$1 trillion per year in today’s dollars. “We looked at each other and said, ‘You know, if we don’t get a grip on Alzheimer’s, we can’t get anything done because it’s going to drown the system,’” recalls Gingrich, the former speaker of the US House of Representatives. He still feels that sense of urgency, and for good reason. Funding has not kept pace with the scale of the problem; targets for treatments are thin on the ground and poorly understood; and more than 200 clinical trials for Alzheimer’s therapies have been terminated because the treatments were ineffective. Of the few treatments available, none addresses the underlying disease process. “We’re faced with a tsunami and we’re trying to deal with it with a bucket,” says Gingrich. But this message has begun to reverberate around the world, which gives hope to the clinicians and scientists. Experts say that the coming wave can be calmed with the help of just three things: more money for research, better diagnostics and drugs, and a victory — however small — that would boost morale. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 22848 - Posted: 11.09.2016