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Health Information Under the Microscope: A Look at Promising Research in Cognitive Decline

There's no shortage of brain power being dedicated to understanding why the brain powers down.

In one of the latest studies on cognitive health, led by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, findings revealed that prolonged exposure to air pollution may accelerate cognitive decline in older adults. "If our findings are confirmed in other research," says lead study investigator Jennifer Weuve, MPH, ScD, a researcher in healthy aging at Rush, "then air pollution reduction is a potential means for reducing the future population burden of age-related cognitive decline and, eventually, dementia."

Discover Rush Online shared three other study results on cognitive health from Rush over the past year: a drug that shows promise for treating Alzheimer's disease, the positive effects of a Mediterranean diet on cognitive decline and expanding "life space" to ward off Alzheimer's.

But those studies just scratch the surface of the new information being brought to light at Rush and around the world that is contributing to our understanding of cognitive decline. The following is a sample of recent research on factors that affect the brain's health.

Alzheimer's Genes

In the largest study of its kind, researchers from 44 universities and research institutions in the United States, including Rush, identified four new genes linked to Alzheimer's disease. Each gene of the four genes adds to the risk of having this common form of dementia later in life. The identification of new genes associated with Alzheimer's provides clues about the causes of the disease — information that is critical for drug discovery. Another goal of genetic studies is to identify who is likely to develop the disease so that they can use preventive measures that may become available.

Social Activity and Cognitive Decline

According to research conducted at Rush, frequent social activity may help to prevent or delay cognitive decline in old age. Over an average of five years, study participants who were more socially active showed reduced rates of cognitive decline. Other variables that might have accounted for the increase in cognitive decline — such as age, exercise and health — were all ruled out in the analysis. More research is needed to determine whether increasing social activity in a person's life can play a part in delaying or preventing cognitive decline.

Role of Vitamin B-12 in Cognitive Health

Older people with low blood levels of vitamin B-12 may be more likely to have problems with their thinking skills, according to a study at Rush. Investigators say it's too early to tell whether increasing vitamin B-12 in older people can prevent problems, but promising results came from a trial in Britain that is similar to Rush's.

With continued research, we move closer to a fuller understanding of cognitive decline, and that means potential for new and more effective treatments. Follow the Rush News Blog for updates on studies from Rush.

More Information at Your Fingertips …

  • Read a blog post on women's college basketball coach Pat Summit's younger-onset Alzeheimer's.
  • Read this post about a monthly group for people with younger-onset Alzheimer's disease on the Rush InPerson blog.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: (888) 352-RUSH (7874).
  • Stay in touch with Rush with Rush News Blog, Rush InPerson, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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Under the Microscope: A Look at Promising Research in Cognitive Decline

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