Alzheimer’s Lost Memories May Be Recoverable

Jennifer was 42 years-old when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  She was heartbroken at first, wondering if she would remember the details of her first love, her child’s wobbly first steps, her overseas travels, or her 20-year career as a pediatric nurse. These things were all significant to the fabric of her life so far, and now all she can do is participate in trials, search for answers and, most of all, maintain hope.

Forgetting loved ones’ names, important dates or events, and details of one’s earlier life are all hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Until recently, the scientific community generally accepted the idea that the disease destroys the process by which these memories are stored, resulting in their complete loss. However, new research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has uncovered evidence that these memories aren’t lost indefinitely­— they’re just inaccessible, with the potential to be retrieved.

How the Research was Conducted

The research involved two groups of mice: a control group and a group that was genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Both groups were given a mild electric shock to their feet. The first group appeared to remember the trauma of the incident by showing fear when placed back in the box where they had been given the shock. The Alzheimer’s mice, on the other hand, seemed to quickly forget what happened and did not have an upset reaction to the box.

The researchers then located the cells associated with this specific memory — called engram cells — in the part of the brain that encodes short-term memories. They stimulated these cells with blue light. After doing so, when they placed the mice back in the box where they had first been shocked, the Alzheimer’s group appeared to remember the trauma they experienced and exhibited the same fear as the healthy group of mice.

The researchers were encouraged by the findings, but came to realize that the memories restored in this way faded within a day. They noted a reduction in the number of spines — small knobs on brain cells through which neurons pass along information. Restoring the lost spines with high-frequency bursts of light in the brain enabled the mice to remember the shock once again, for up to six days.

According to the researchers, “Directly activating the cells that are holding the memory gets them to retrieve it. This suggests that it is indeed an access problem to the information, not that they’re unable to learn or store this memory.” Head researcher, Susumu Tonegawa, a Nobel Prize winner, says “Basic research as conducted in this study provides information on cell populations to be targeted, which is critical for future treatments and technologies.”

Scientists at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, said the researchers used a “clever strategy.” They called the findings “exciting” and wrote that they “might help to guide engram-based strategies that rescue memory deficits in patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.” Other experts caution that the technique is not something that can be translated into use for the 44 million people living with dementia worldwide anytime soon, and that the invasive light-based procedure is presently considered too dangerous for human trials. Still, researchers are hopeful about the potential of being able to reverse early-stage Alzheimer’s-induced memory loss—in humans—in the future.

There are many more promising research studies about Alzheimer’s and dementia and, like you, I am hopeful that these studies will yield a breakthrough soon. For more details on Alzheimer’s research, visit alz.org. Please also follow us on Twitter (@ElderLawExpert), as we post about new research and breakthroughs often. Please also read our blog posts, “How Close Are We to a Cure for Alzheimer’s?” and “Is Alzheimer’s in Your Future?,” for additional details on strides that are being made in treatment and prevention of the disease.

Early Detection is Key

Research suggests that the process of Alzheimer’s disease begins more than a decade before clinical symptoms appear. Early detection is important for planning for long-term care and participating in trials to help stave off the disease and possibly find a cure. Early detection may also have a major impact on the course of the disease, and in successfully treating symptoms. Please read our blog post that explains more about the importance of early detection. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, be sure to make an appointment with a doctor for a medical evaluation, including mental status testing and a physical and neurological examination.

Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s and Other Types of Dementia

Alzheimer’s is the biggest health and social care challenge of our generation, and a diagnosis of the disease is life-changing.  When it comes to planning for long-term care needs, generally, the earlier someone with dementia plans, the better.  But it is never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Medicaid planning can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if you are already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care.  Please understand that you never need to spend-down all of your assets and go broke in order to get Medicaid.

Medicaid Asset Protection

People with Alzheimer’s live on average four to eight years after they’re diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis. Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia? Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At Farr Law Firm, P.C., 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 a no-cost consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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