A new study by Florida State University researchers may help answer some of the most difficult questions surrounding Alzheimer’s disease, an incurable and progressive illness affecting millions of families around the globe.
Researchers showed that the way two parts of the brain interact during sleep may explain symptoms experienced by Alzheimer’s patients, a finding that opens up new doors in dementia research. It is believed that these interactions during sleep allow memories to form and thus failure of this normal system in a brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease may explain why memory is impaired.
This research is important because it looks at possible mechanisms underlying the decline of memory in Alzheimer’s disease and understanding how it causes memory decline could help identify treatments. The study is based on measuring brain waves in mouse models of the disease, and provided researchers a number of new insights into Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease findings include:
- How the two parts of the brain — the parietal cortex and the hippocampus — interact during sleep may contribute to symptoms experienced by Alzheimer’s patients, such as impaired memory and cognition, and getting lost in new surroundings.
- The playing back of activity patterns from waking experience in subsequent sleep periods as a potential cause of impaired spatial learning and memory.
Surprisingly, a better predictor of performance and the first impairment to emerge was not ‘memory replay’ per se, but was instead the relative strength of the post-learning coupling between two brain regions known to be important for learning and memory: the hippocampus and the parietal cortex.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 47 million people worldwide are living with the disease, a number projected to soar to 76 million over the next decade. It is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting one out of every 10 people ages 65 and older.
90% of the treatments to help address Alzheimer’s and its symptoms have been discovered within the last 15 years. Based on these recent findings, a new test to determine early Alzheimer’s could be on the horizon. Researchers believe that maintaining complex social interactions, such as those associated with mentoring, teaching or problem solving with others, could lead to a lower risk of the condition.