Newsbriefs: Low Body Weight & AD Risk; Depression & Family History; “Brain Training”

Low Body Weight Increase AD Risk in Older Age

A study conducted by researchers at MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggests that older adults with a low body mass index (BMI) may be at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The scientists looked at the medical histories and the results of physical exams, brain imaging, and genetic testing in 280 healthy adults ranging in age from 62 to 90. According to study results published Aug. 3, 2016 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, participants with lower weight tended to have larger brain deposits of beta-amyloid, a toxic protein that is a hallmark of AD, even after controlling for factors such as age, sex, and education. The association was especially significant for low-weight participants with the APOE4 genetic variant, the major genetic risk factor for late-onset AD. Because elevated beta-amyloid is believed to be the first stage of preclinical AD, the findings suggest that individuals who are underweight late in life may be at greater risk for the disease. “Finding this association with a strong marker of AD risk reinforces the idea that being underweight as you get older may not be a good thing when it comes to your brain health,” said senior author Gad Marshall, MD.

Risk for Depression May Be Handed Down Through Generations

People whose parents or grandparents have experienced depression face a significantly higher-than-normal risk of developing the disorder themselves, a recent study found. Researchers looked at the mental health histories of 251 men and women averaging 18 years of age, along with the histories of their parents and grandparents. Compared to participants with no family history of depression, those whose parents had major depression were twice as likely to develop the condition, and were also more vulnerable to addiction, suicidal thoughts and attempts, disruptive behavior, and poor functioning. Participants with both a parent and a grandparent who developed major depression faced three times the normal risk for the illness, according to a report published online Aug. 10, 2016 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The findings suggest that people with a family history of depression should be alert to symptoms of the illness and seek professional help for them. Depression is very treatable.

“Brain Training” Helps Paralyzed People Move Again

An exciting new treatment advance has helped a small group of people whose lower bodies were paralyzed regain some movement and sensation in their legs. Researchers working with eight people who had suffered spinal cord injuries put participants through carefully constructed weekly training sessions involving tactile feedback, the use of custom-made exoskeletons, and virtual reality simulations of walking. None of the participants had any feeling below the level of their injuries at the outset of the study, and their brains showed no sign of activity in regions involved in walking. However, after a year of training, all participants showed signs of brain activity related to walking, and had experienced some recovery of tactile sensation and muscle function. “We are basically driving the brain to reinsert the idea of walking and reinsert the interpretation of the legs,” explained the lead author. Classification of half of the participants changed from paraplegic to partial paraplegic, and many regained some level of bladder control and bowel function, according to the study, which was published Aug. 11, 2016 in Scientific Reports. The findings support the concept that a combination of training techniques used over many hours can produce changes in people who have suffered spinal injuries, and perhaps also in people who have suffered strokes or neurological disease.

Older Adults At Low Risk for Opoid Addiction After Surgery

A new study has found that the risk for addiction to opioids following surgery is minimal among older adults. An analysis of medical records on more than 39,000 surgical patients ages 65 and older found that from 2003 to 2010 only 0.4 percent of the 53 percent of participants who received one or more opioid prescriptions were still taking the painkiller one year after surgery. The vast majority of participants used opioids such as Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin for a short period, and then stopped, according to a paper published online in the Aug. 10, 2016 edition of JAMA Surgery.

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