Dolphins and Dementia — Beware of Contaminated Waters

Jeannie and I love aquariums, so we visit them often. Because we have a vacation home near Clearwater Beach, home to the world-famous Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), the real-life home of Winter and Hope from the movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, we visit CMA frequently. What makes CMA so special is that it is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of sick and injured marine animals, such as dolphins. Its most famous resident is Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who was injured prior to her rescue and who wears a specially-designed prosthetic tail. Her rescue and rehabilitation was the basis of the first Dolphin Tale movie.

It’s truly remarkable how much CMA does to help rescue and rehabilitate dolphins and other marine animals. We were quite saddened recently when we learned that dolphins are now showing signs of an Alzheimer’s-like disease. It’s bad enough that the disease affects nearly 6 million humans in our country, but dolphins too?

Sadly, it’s not that surprising given that we’ve known for years that household pets suffer from dementia (including our beloved 20-year old rescued tuxedo cat, BeBe, one of the regular Critter Corner contributors). Studies in both cats and dogs show that they experience symptoms of dementia as they age. A study at the University of California-Berkeley has shown that 62% of dogs between ages 11 and 16 demonstrate one or more signs of dementia (called canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) in dogs), and the percentage goes up as dogs get older. And researchers from the University of Edinburgh believe 50% of all cats over the age of 15 and 25% aged 11 to 14, suffer from dementia. See our previous article on this topic for more info.

Alzheimer’s is an irreversible disorder which causes memory loss and the loss of cognitive abilities. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and, despite a great deal of scientific research, no cure or treatment has been found.

Stranded Dolphins Showed Signs of Alzheimer’s

This past year, 150 dead dolphins were found in Gulf waters in Florida, which prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to launch an investigation as to the cause of death.
Researchers at the University of Miami studied 14 of the dolphins, who were beached. In 13 of them that showed signs of Alzheimer’s-like brain disease, the researchers found a significant amount of toxins produced by blue-green algae. Here are some of the other significant findings from the study and another similar study from Oxford University/University of Florida:

A chemical found in algae (BMAA) may be linked to harmful brain conditions in dolphins. Researchers say BMAA is being absorbed through the mammals’ food. Dolphins consuming fish laced with BMAA caused the toxin to accumulate in their brain, leading to Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.

Both brains are highly evolved: Dolphins have a highly evolved brain development similar to humans. This brain similarity with humans suggests the possibility that dolphins are susceptible to similar neurodegenerative diseases.

Dolphins and humans both live long. Longevity is one of the most relevant factors in neurodegenerative diseases. Dolphins have longevity ranges between 20-100 years, which is enough time to develop the brain amyloid deposits that cause Alzheimer’s.

Same toxin was found in sharks: University of Miami researchers confirmed high levels of the same toxin from the same type of algae were also in sharks.

Additional Research is Underway to Help Crystallize the Link Between BMAA and Alzheimer’s

The connection between the toxin and brain disease is still relatively new and more research needs to be done. The finding is significant however, as researchers believe these types of findings could provide early warnings of toxic exposure in humans and contribute to Alzheimer’s research.

How to Avoid Toxic Algae Exposure

A harmful algal bloom can occur in water bodies around the world and can affect those who use these water bodies for recreation, agricultural, or drinking. People can be exposed to such toxins when they swim, wade, or play in or near contaminated water; eat contaminated fish or shellfish; or use contaminated drinking water. The severity of illness and symptoms can vary depending on the type of exposure and the type of toxin.

The main routes of exposure to harmful algae bloom toxins are:

• Skin contact (through activities like swimming)
• Inhalation (by breathing in tiny airborne droplets or mist contaminated with the toxins)
• Ingestion (by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the toxins)

Blue-green algae blooms usually occur in late summer and early fall. Experts urge people to avoid visible blooms — bodies of water with blue, green or brown foam on top — and to keep pets from making contact with water showing signs of it.

• Avoid entering or playing in bodies of water that:

o smell bad
o look discolored
o have foam, scum, or algal mats on the surface
o contain or are near dead fish or other dead animals (for example, do not enter a body of water if dead fish have washed up on its shore or beach)

• Follow local or state guidance if you are notified that your tap water contains algal toxins.

• Note that boiling water does not remove algal toxins and can increase the amount of toxin in the water by concentrating it.

• Be aware of advisories and health risks related to consuming contaminated fish and shellfish. For more information, see the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Choose Fish and Shellfish Wisely web pages.

Medicaid Asset Protection for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Persons with Alzheimer’s and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Alzheimer’s Disease Planning Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Alzheimer’s Disease Planning Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Alzheimer’s Disease Planning Rockville: 301-519-8041
Alzheimer’s Disease Planning DC: 202-587-2797

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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