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UC San Diego Health Sciences News
Without p-tau protein present, impact of amyloid is “not significantly different from zero”
According to a new study, the neuron-killing pathology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which begins before clinical symptoms appear, requires the presence of both amyloid-beta (a-beta) plaque deposits and elevated levels of an altered protein called p-tau.
Without both, progressive clinical decline associated with AD in cognitively healthy older individuals is “not significantly different from zero,” reports a team of scientists in an issue of the Archives of Neurology.
“I think this is the biggest contribution of our work,” said Rahul S. Desikan, MD, PhD, research fellow and resident radiologist in the UC San Diego Department of Radiology and first author of the study. “A number of planned clinical trials – and the majority of Alzheimer’s studies – focus predominantly on a-beta. Our results highlight the importance of also looking at p-tau, particularly in trials investigating therapies to remove a-beta. Older, non-demented individuals who have elevated a-beta levels, but normal p-tau levels, maprogress to Alzheimer’s, while older individuals with elevated levels of both will likely develop the disease.”
The findings also underscore the importance of p-tau as a target for new approaches to treating patients with conditions ranging from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to full-blown AD. An estimated 5.4 million Americans have AD. It’s believed that 10 to 20 percent of Americans age 65 and older have MCI, a risk factor for AD. Some current therapies appear to delay clinical AD onset, but the disease remains irreversible and incurable.
“It may be that a-beta initiates the Alzheimer’s cascade,” said Desikan. “But once started, the neurodegenerative mechanism may become independent of a-beta, with p-tau and other proteins playing a bigger role in the downstream degenerative cascade. If that’s the case, prevention with anti-a-beta compounds may prove efficacious against AD for older, non-demented individuals who have not yet developed tau pathology. But novel, tau-targeting therapies may help the millions of individuals who already suffer from mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.”
The new study involved evaluations of healthy, non-demented elderly individuals participating in the ongoing, multi-site Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, or ADNI. Launched in 2003, ADNI is a longitudinal effort to measure the progression of mild cognitive impairment and early-stage AD.
The researchers studied samples of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) taken from ADNI participants