Older brain: finding the connection between neurology and regeneration


Karen Ake, 60, of Silthorn, poses for a portrait on Thursday at the Timberline Adult Day Program Gardens in Frisco. 10. One, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, attends the center three to four times a week. Ginny Patterson, physical therapist and executive director at Timberline, said exercise is an integral part of Timberline’s program for dementia patients.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

ASPEN – This is not noticeable at first. It begins with changes for which the brain can compensate, meaning no real impact on day-to-day tasks or feeling.

But with the passage of time, the brain can no longer compensate for the damage it is experiencing. Subtle problems with memory and thinking start popping up. The subtle becomes noticeable. Difficulty in performing everyday activities that are noticeable. Eventually, almost care is required.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is a widespread visual progression from Alzheimer’s to severe disease, a degenerative brain disease that worsens over time and age and is the most common cause of dementia.

In Colorado, an estimated 76,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s dementia, and the number is likely to rise 21% to 92,000 by 2025, a 2020 Alzheimer’s Association report said. As of July 2019, 14ad% of Coloradans, or about 840,000 people, were 65 or older, US Census Bureau data show.

Although it has been shown that living in high altitude communities can lead to a more active, healthier lifestyle and even longer life, it is less clear how high altitude living correlates with degenerative brain diseases Huh.

In short, the answer is complex and not well researched.

“As far as I know, there is no evidence of one way or another about high altitude versus low altitude for Alzheimer’s disease risk,” Dr. Said Huntington Potter, director of the Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center at the University of Colorado. Medical Campus. “… we cannot say in one way or another whether high altitude is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.”

The city of Frisco in Summit County sits above a height of 9,000 feet.
Photo by Nicole Miller / [email protected]

Dementia at height

At the Alzheimer’s & Cognition Center, which is part of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and School of Medicine, physicians and researchers, according to their website, are dedicated to the effective early diagnosis, prevention, treatment and ultimately treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related neurodegenerative disorders..

For Potter, this means looking into biomarkers or diagnostic proteins in the blood that can help physicians predict the disease earlier, conducting projects that will increase the lifespan of people with Alzheimer’s disease See, and other research that quickly better care, treatment and. Hopefully there is a cure.

At the moment, the center is studying a drug called leucine, which preliminary data suggests could improve Alzheimer’s disease in the short term, Potter explained. The center is also studying other drugs that attack the disease.

“Luken may be the first that we found to look promising, but we have several coming out that look promising,” Potter said.

When it comes to looking at the possible correlation between living at high altitude and the risk of dementia-inducing diseases, Potter and Drs of the Alzheimer’s & Cognition Center. Peter Pressman said that research would take a lot of effort, time and money.

Pressman, who is a behavioral neurologist and researcher with the center, called on acquiring and carefully selecting a large group of people living at altitude to participate in a study, to be meaningful to researchers as well That group would have to be followed for almost a decade. the result is.

“It’s easy to give money for a study for a few years,” Pressman said. “People give you money to do something for two to three years, but two to three years is not enough time for a procedure as much as Alzheimer’s and dementia are really slow to take. I am not saying that this is not possible. It is notable, but it will take some effort. ”

Dr. Brooke Allen, neurologist, founder of Roaring Fork Neurology in Basalt And the medical director at Renew Roaring Fork, an assistant living and memory care center in Glenwood Springs, expressed similar views.

As part of any mild cognitive impairment or dementia assessment, Allen said his team examines a patient’s oxygen level and considers the height at which that person spends most of their time.

Low oxygen levels can contribute to people experiencing confusion, dizziness, and mild short-term memory issues. But looking at oxygen levels and how they can contribute to symptoms, Allen said she does not exacerbate high-risk conditions.

Allen said he feels that 65 and older residents of the high country are much younger than their age in terms of their lifestyle, which is positive in the context of dementia prevention.

About four years ago, Allen and his team tested a long-term preclinical Alzheimer’s as part of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative Generation Program, a study that looked at the effectiveness of preventive treatment for individuals 65 and 75 whose dementia There were no symptoms of

Allen said more than 250 people came to participate in the study and all generally lead healthy, active lifestyles.

Regarding the people who participated in the study, Allen said, “I think in our valley, I want to meet those types of people and not about height as a risk factor, but rather about the opportunity for lifestyle in a rural area Thinking as I do. ”

Given the possible correlation between living at high altitude and the risk of degenerative brain diseases, Colorado is not just a difficult feat for researchers. Little research exists with concrete findings nationally or globally.

Dr. in JAMA Psychiatry. A 2015 study published by Stephen Thilke looked at deaths due to Alzheimer’s dementia in 58 counties in California to determine whether the rate of dementia was associated with the average height of residence. The study found that counties located at higher elevations generally have lower dementia mortality.

“Additional work is required to determine if this relationship is in other populations,” the study notes.

But beyond this study, there is not much conclusive evidence for or against a correlation, as did a psychiatrist, assistant professor and researcher with the University of Utah Health and the School Department of Psychiatry, Dr. As emphasized by Brent Cuss.

Kight has studied the link between high altitude living and major depressive disorder, anxiety and suicide, And he said that he and his research team are interested in the incidence of Parkinson’s disease onset and the effect of height on average age.

However, Cuit said that chronic exposure to moderately high altitudes does not necessarily result in an increased risk of dementia due to declining cognitive performance.

“It is unclear whether elevation will affect those neurodegenerative processes, although there is some reason to think that they involve oxidative damage … so relative hypoxia may slow them down,” Cute wrote in an email is. They stated that relative and prolonged hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, is associated with dementia risk. “In any case, a good epidemiological study of the relation between altitude and dementia should control for things that may be associated with both.”

Access to better understanding and care

While there is not good data for or against high altitude as a risk factor for degenerative brain diseases, there is evidence that dementia care and treatment is more common in people living in rural communities than in those living in urban areas There is no equal access.

According to a 2020 snapshot of rural health in Colorado, produced by the Colorado Rural Health Center, 721,500 people are living in rural Colorado and 19% of the rural population is 65 or older. Rural is defined as nonmetropolitan county in more than 50,000 cities.

Chad Federwitz – a gerontologist, or specialist in aging studies and manager of Pitkin County Senior Services – said he has not seen any association between high altitude and dementia risk. In particular, he knows that people move to Grand Junction or Front Range if they have dementia due to lack of care resources in the high country.

“Given the nature of our rural-ish community, we do not have the same resources,” Federwitz said, referring to things like long-term assisted living and memory care options. “You can go to Grand Junction or Front Range and here are pages and pages of resources as opposed.”

While more rural Colorado communities have few dementia care resources, the Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center is working more to develop meaningful relationships with health care providers and dementia patients in the state’s mountainous communities as part of its mission.

According to Pressman, who is heading this charge on behalf of the CU Center, many projects are in the planning stages, but include Alzheimer’s and general healthy brain aging, as well as mutually educating medical providers, nurse practitioners and primary care doctors. Is included. Participatory research with rural Colorado communities and communities of color.

Pressman pointed out that a lot of Alzheimer’s research is based on middle class, well educated, white participants. And so when researchers think they know a lot about the disease in general, they really only know about the disease belonging to this demographic group.

Through the center’s outreach and efforts to better connect with underrepresented communities, Pressman hopes to conduct better science and better serve the larger Colorado community.

“What inspires me is trying to do good work, trying to do good science and to make sure that our results really represent real life,” Press said. “We want to make sure that we are helping everyone, not just a niche group, and that our services are equally available to as many people as possible.”

Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a four-part series on longevity in the high country. The series is being produced in partnership with The Aspen Times, Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Steamboat Pilot and Today and Well Daily. Read more at the summit.

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