Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month

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Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a condition that many are familiar with because of its overwhelming impact and prevalence in the world. In the US, it is the sixth leading cause of death, with women making up almost two-thirds of those with the disease. While it is just one of many types of dementia, Alzheimer’s accounts for up to 80 percent of cases.

In addition to Aphasia Awareness [see previous post], June is also Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. Led by the Alzheimer’s Association, the national observance is dedicated to increasing public awareness of AD through conversations among friends, families, and coworkers. The more people know about Alzheimer’s, the more action can be inspired in hopes of better treatments or a potential cure.

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Aphasia Awareness Month Interview with Kenneth Heilman, M.D.

For a devastating language disorder that affects almost two million people in the US alone, about 85 percent of people in a national survey have never heard the term “aphasia.” More common than Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, it does not discriminate according to age, race, or gender. With June being Aphasia Awareness Month, we asked Kenneth M. Heilman, M.D., to help us get the word out.

Heilman, who is an expert in language and speech disorders, was Chief of Medicine at NATO Hospital in Turkey during the Vietnam War and currently is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Florida (UF) and a staff neurologist at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Heilman has also been a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives since 2003.

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Photo courtesy of Kenneth Heilman

Aphasia is more common than other well-known brain disorders, with an estimated 180,000 people predicted to develop it each year. Why do people know so little about it? Continue reading

Tips to Get Moving for National Senior Health and Fitness Day!

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Whether you’re already physically active or looking to get started, today is a great day to get moving! It’s the 25th anniversary of Senior Health & Fitness Day, the nation’s largest annual health promotion event for older adults. More than 1,000 local organizations in all 50 states are hosting activities such as fitness walks, low-impact exercises, health screenings, health information workshops, and more.

While exercise has benefits for the whole body, it is especially important for your brain as you age. Experts from the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), a collaborative of scientists, health professionals, scholars, and policy experts who focus on brain heath and aging, agreed in a report that people who exercise “show beneficial changes in brain structure and function” and “have lower risk of cognitive decline.” Physical activity can make positive changes in our brains that will keep us sharp into old age.

The experts at GCBH also outlined the following guidelines for anyone looking to improve their level of physical activity and keep it enjoyable:

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National Parkinson’s Awareness Month Interview with Robert Edwards, M.D.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects roughly one in 100 people over the age of 60. With no biomarker or objective test to make a definitive diagnosis, PD has kept researchers searching for clues on how to treat, and hopefully prevent, the disease.

April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, and so we sat down with Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member Robert Edwards, M.D., who specializes in the treatment of PD at the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Clinic. Edwards is a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. His lab has received international recognition for demonstrating that vesicular monoamine transport protects against MPTP toxicity, suggesting an important mechanism that may also protect against Parkinson’s.

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Robert Edwards, M.D.

Regular exercise is proven to have positive effects on gait speed, strength, balance, and overall quality of life for people with PD. Though studies are still limited, dance therapy is said to greatly improve quality of life for this group, even more so than typical exercise. Can you talk a little bit about this?

RE: I am not an expert in this area, but exercise has clear short-term effects on function and for those more severely affected, on quality of life—those earlier in the disease are doing pretty well in any case. Presumably, exercise helps by improving the function of the basal ganglia circuitry that controls movement, much as it would in normal individuals. Dance therapy focuses on balance and other aspects of motor function different from standard exercises, so might be expected to add something new. Continue reading

Get Up, Stand Up: NYU Panel Examines Policy

Guest post by Carl Sherman

Scientists should advocate for what they believe in—and bring their values to work. “Get up, get into it, be involved,” said Clancy Blair, professor of cognitive psychology at New York University. “Be the change you want to see.”

Blair was on an NYU faculty panel at a Brain Awareness Week event, “Neuroscience, Inequality & Social Policy,” organized by the Scientist Action and Advocacy Network (ScAAN) a group of students and researchers who aim “to bridge the gap between science and society, and make science a force for social change,” according to moderator and doctoral student and ScAAN member Stephen Braren.

To the panelists, this clearly and passionately meant fostering social and economic justice.

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Braren

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