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Afflicting millions of patients, Alzheimer's disease is becoming a growing burden to healthcare systems around the world. The condition is typically diagnosed after symptoms of mild cognitive impairment arise. Not all patients with mild cognitive impairment, however, develop Alzheimer's. To understand what sets Alzheimer's patients apart, scientists at the VTT Technical Research Centre (Espoo, Finland) set out to use biomarkers to look at the molecular changes behind the disease.
The new research indicates that a biochemical assay from a serum sample could be used to predict Alzheimer's disease months or years before symptoms begin to take a toll on a patient. Professor Matej Orešič from the VTT Technical Research Centre believes that the disease is preceded by a molecular signature indicating potential involvement of hypoxia and an up-regulated pentose phosphate pathway.
The research could lead to the development of a clinical test that could complement the neurocognitive assessment now used by physicians to help diagnose Alzheimer's.
As the announcement explains:
The team used metabolomics, a high-throughput method for detecting small metabolites, to produce profiles of the serum metabolites associated with progression to AD. Serum samples were collected at baseline when the patients were diagnosed with AD, MCI, or identified as healthy controls. 52 out of 143 MCI patients progressed to AD during the follow-up period of 27 months on average. A molecular signature comprising three metabolites measured at baseline was derived which was predictive of progression to AD. Furthermore, analysis of data in the context of metabolic pathways revealed that pentose phosphate pathway was associated with progression to AD, also implicating the role of hypoxia and oxidative stress as early disease processes.
The unique study setting allowed the researchers to identify the patients diagnosed with MCI at baseline who later progressed to AD and to derive the molecular signature which can identify such patients at baseline.
Though there is no current therapy to prevent AD, early disease detection is vital both for delaying the onset of the disease through pharmacological treatment and/or lifestyle changes and for assessing the efficacy of potential AD therapeutic agents. The elucidation of early metabolic pathways associated with progression to Alzheimer's disease may also help in identifying new therapeutic avenues