The baby boomer population is aging and as such many are confronting the risk for age-related diseases like dementia. Among the most common forms of dementia, of course is Alzheimer’s Disease.
Fortunately, research into Alzheimer’s Disease continues to reveal revolutionary information about not only potential treatments for this condition but, more importantly, potential causes which will hopefully lead to better preventive care. After all, there are currently no effective treatments for patients suffering Alzheimer’s disease. Once the condition is identified, the care is generally palliative, in an attempt to make the inevitable end of life as comfortable as possible.
A new study, though, suggests that all the brain of every Alzheimer’s disease patient is first affected in the region known as the locus coeruleus. Researchers at the University of Southern California say that this region of the brain is particularly susceptible to the disease because its primary function is to regulate blood vessel activity in the brain. This tiny part of the brain also releases the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating heart rate, memory, cognition, and attention; a chemical called norepinephrine.
Because of its location and function, the locus coeruleus is interconnected with other parts of the brain and so when the build up of fats and proteins begin to collect, over time, this is the region often affected first, resulting in the disruption of brain and memory function.
The research, then, suggests that investigating ways to preserve this part of the brain could be key to slowing the progress of dementia and maybe even prevent it in the long run.
According to USC professor Mara Mather, “Education and engaging careers produce late-life ‘cognitive reserve,’ or effective brain performance, despite encroaching pathology. Activation of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system by novelty and mental challenge throughout one’s life may contribute to cognitive reserve.”
In addition, Rosa Sancho of Alzheimer’s Research UK notes, “The research highlight that the locus coeruleus could play an important role in maintaining memory and thinking skills and research is underway to understand how changes in this critical region impact on brain health as we age.”
She goes on to notes, “It’s important that researchers around the world investigate the initial stages of Alzheimer’s and explore why some parts of the brain are more vulnerable to damage than others, as this will help in the hunt for new treatments.”