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Sunday 23rd October 2016

The cost of Alzheimer's

24th April 2008

The Economist suggests the fortunes of nations could hang on new Alzheimer’s research.


While Alzheimer’s disease remains one of the most puzzling conditions around, it is also critically important because of the costs of looking after patients and the subsequent strain that places on a nation’s finances as life expectancy rises.

No-one really known how Alzheimer’s debilitates and kills people. One sign is microscopic plaques and tangles in the nerve cells of the brain, though some people who remain mentally agile in later life also show these signs.

Deniz Erten-Lyons from the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, USA, and her colleagues, may have found a consistent feature of the brains of those who have the internal stigmata of Alzheimer’s disease without suffering the outward manifestations: their brains, particularly their hippocampuses, are about 10% bigger than average.

This is one part of the brain where the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease are found.

But it remains unclear how that protects people and there is now the indication that the tangles and plaques may not directly impair brain function after all, with something else causing the mental decline.

Following on from this Dr Erten-Lyons’ team is examining amounts of different proteins in both groups of brains from their study and looking at the number of synaptic connections between nerve cells.

The hope is that this could provide useful information that would further find the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. With the growing threat to health economies from longer-living Alzheimer’s patients, the “fortunes and futures of entire countries� could hang on this work.



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