Groundbreaking Alzheimer’s Trial Featured on CBS News

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 26, 2015

Reisa A. Sperling, MD

Helene lost her mother to Alzheimer’s. Now, her sister is battling the disease. While Helene is not showing symptoms, scans of her brain show the buildup of amyloid plaques that are believed to lead to the development of Alzheimer’s.

CBS News interviewed Helene, who is participating in a groundbreaking international clinical trial that is the first to examine early treatment of older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease – with the hope of preventing memory loss before it begins. Led by Dr. Reisa Sperling, Director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s Disease (A4) Study is for people without symptoms, but whose brain scans show the buildup of amyloid plaques. The A4 study is currently enrolling 1,000 participants at 60 sites in the United States, Canada, and Australia. To learn more about the A4 study and other studies for Alzheimer’s disease, please contact the BWH Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity: Hydrocephalus Mimics Dementia

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 2, 2013

Hydrocephalus is characterized by walking difficulty, trouble with bladder control, and dementia.

After college, raising a family, and building a successful business, Susan and Rick Sontag were living normal lives until things took an unexpected turn. One morning in 1994, Susan awoke with a serious headache. She was confused and unable to remember simple things. After a series of tests, Susan was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. In an attempt to save her life, Susan underwent an experimental treatment. Miraculously, she survived. As a result of their experience, Susan and Rick started The Sontag Foundation, which has given over $40 million to support brain tumor research and other worthy causes.

But Susan’s miraculous victory appeared to have come at a high personal cost. Over the years following her treatment, she developed increasing difficulty walking and eventually required the use of canes and wheelchairs. Although she lost much of her short-term memory at the time the brain tumor was discovered, her family, friends, and doctors noticed a continuing decline in her other cognitive skills. Everyone assumed that her symptoms were side-effects of her brain tumor treatment and that nothing more could be done.

That was until a January 2013 scientific retreat, sponsored by The Sontag Foundation. Rick and Susan sat next to Dr. Mark Johnson, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital brain tumor neurosurgeon and scientist whose research had been supported by the Sontag Foundation nearly ten years earlier. Dr. Johnson too had observed Susan’s slow decline over the years; however, at the scientific retreat she seemed more affected than ever. Dr. Johnson recognized a pattern in her symptoms and asked Rick if she had ever been screened for a common but little known disorder called normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH). She had not.

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New Approaches for Treating Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 27, 2013

Dr. Dennis Selkoe and Dr. Reisa Sperling lead the Center for Alzheimer's Research and Treatment.

Alzheimer’s disease robs us of our most precious possessions — our memories.  And, like a robbery in the middle of the night, the theft can take place without us realizing it. Dr. Dennis Selkoe, Co-Director, Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Dr. Reisa Sperling, Director of the BWH Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment, recently shared their insights into the latest medical research on Alzheimer’s disease at a lecture sponsored by the McCourt Foundation.

“Current therapies often provide patients with some symptomatic relief for a short period of time, however, none of these treatments slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Sperling. “With nearly 10,000 U.S. baby boomers turning 65 each day, the search for new Alzheimer disease treatments has intensified.”

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When Memory Loss Is Cause for Concern

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 11, 2012

Losing your keys, forgetting a name, or missing an appointment—it happens to all of us and it can happen more frequently as we get older.  A certain amount of memory loss is normal as we age but some patients can experience memory loss that is greater than expected. These patients may be suffering from a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI).  Patients with MCI can live independently, unlike patients with dementia (severe loss of mental function), however, medical researchers are learning that MCI may be a warning sign of more serious illness.

Memory loss is normal as we age but sometimes it can indicate serious illness.

Several studies have found that patients with MCI have an increased risk of developing dementia.  Nearly 60% of patients with MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.  After being diagnosed with MCI, through a series of memory tests, patients can undergo genetic evaluation and specialized exams estimate the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease; however, it can be difficult for doctors to easily explain the test results to patients and their families.

Recently, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital announced a new study called the Risk Evaluation and Education for Alzheimer’s Disease Study (REVEAL).  The study’s goal is to learn how to communicate the results of genetic testing and Alzheimer’s risk estimates to MCI patients and their families so that they can gain a better understanding of what it means to have MCI, what are the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and how to cope with problems related to memory loss.

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Butter on the Brain? Think Again.

Posted by Blog Administrator June 13, 2012

Dr. Olivia Okereke

Oil or butter? Dr. Olivia Okereke found that higher amounts of “good” fats, like those found in olive oil, were associated with better cognitive function and memory in women.

We’ve known for some time now that eating too many foods containing “bad” fats – saturated fats or trans fats – isn’t healthy for your heart. Now it appears these fats, which are found in foods such as butter and red meat, may also be bad for your brain.

Dr. Olivia Okereke, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Psychiatry Department, found that higher amounts of saturated fat, in particular, were linked with worse overall cognitive function and memory over time in women.

On the flip side, higher amounts of one of the “good” fats – monounsaturated fats – were associated with better overall cognitive function and memory. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, and nuts.

The BWH researchers analyzed data that included food surveys and cognitive test results from a subset of more than 6,000 women, over the age of 65, from the Women’s Health Study.

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Alzheimer’s Treatment: A Race against Time

Posted by Blog Administrator April 10, 2012

woman with Alzheimer's disease

BWH researchers are looking at new treatment options for Alzheimer's disease.

Imagine that in the next three-to-five years you will go from being fully independent to needing help with dressing, eating, and other basic activities of daily living. Now imagine that you are given a medication that will enable you to retain your current skills, even improve a little. But, in six-to-nine months, you will likely begin to decline again. This is the life of someone who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Less than a handful of medications for Alzheimer’s disease are currently approved by the FDA. By and large, most people who take these medications see an improvement in their memory, other thinking abilities, daily functioning, and behavior for a short time, and then go on to experience further decline,” says Dr. Gad Marshall, a behavioral neurologist in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment who is focusing on clinical trials of new treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease.

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