Helping people with mild dementia to navigate their day


Which one of our four interest areas do you think is the most important to improve the life of a person suffering dementia?
Help he/she to remember
Help on maintaining social contacts
Help on performing daily life activities
Enhance their feeling of safety
Total votes: 73



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Join AALIANCE Conference in Malaga 11-12th March

The AALIANCE Conference 11-th-12th March in Malaga brings together key stakeholders in defining necessary research, standardization and policy actions for Ambient Assisted Living to become a reality.

The AALIANCE roadmap will be presented together with selected papers contributed by the AAL community.

Register via, closing 26th February.


COGKNOW on ICT results


Assistive technology helps dementia sufferers get through the day

Tens of millions of elderly people in the EU suffering from mild dementia may be able to look after themselves, and free up their carers, thanks to a new European-developed system.

One of the first and most debilitating symptoms of dementia is short-term memory loss, which means care is required for people who are otherwise quite capable of looking after themselves. They can perform tasks, but they forget them or how to do them.

Other symptoms of mild dementia can be linked to a loss of self-confidence – old people increasingly refraining from initiating social contact – and to a sense of insecurity.

How to address these concerns and enable mild dementia victims to continue to lead independent lives for an extended period of time has been researched, and possibly solved, by an EU-funded project.

The COGKNOW project brought together some of the leading dementia specialists in Europe, doctors from the Netherlands, Sweden and Northern Ireland, with teams of software researchers and developers. Their aim was to address a range of different needs of mild dementia patients and come up with a simple, user-friendly device to meet those needs.

Need for simple-to-use devices

“Separate devices and solutions exist for many of the needs, and if people learn how to use them early on, then they may be able to continue using them quite far into the disease” says the project’s scientific coordinator Johan E Bengtsson.  “But it then becomes a problem for the patient to remember where the devices are, and how each of them works,” he says. Also, in later stages of the disease, simplified devices are needed, and at that stage it is usually too late to teach anybody how to use even the simpler devices and the person will then need to rely on a carer.

So the COGKNOW project set out to create two very user-friendly devices, one home-based and one mobile, featuring all the high-priority and previously unmet needs, as identified by end users and their carers, as well as the dementia experts.

They determined that touch-screen technology was the ideal interface between persons with dementia and computer-based assistive functions.  An added attraction was the fact that they could buy the needed hardware devices off the shelf and then install the COGKNOW Day Navigator software suite on them.

Self-explanatory icons

The end result was a flat-screen monitor for the home, which can be either wall mounted or standalone, and a mobile smart phone with a much simplified user interface installed.

Both devices are controlled solely by touch screen (the monitor does not even come with a keyboard) with the COGKNOW application maintained on top of everything so nothing else is visible to the end user.  “The application takes control of the device and makes it impossible for the user to activate the more difficult-to-use functions of these devices,” explains Bengtsson.

All the user has to deal with are simple, self-explanatory icons on the touch screen. The in-home system can be set up to start issuing reminders from wake-up time in the morning until bed time. These can be recorded in a friend or relative’s voice, and give instructions for all sorts of activities such as picking up the morning newspaper, brushing teeth, preparing or warming pre-prepared meals, laundry and dish washing and myriad other daily activities.

They can also be linked to video presentations showing how to operate, for example, the stove, microwave oven or washing machine.

Many elderly people worry if the door is open or unlocked, and the COGKNOW system monitors this so they don’t keep on checking that during the day. On-screen icons in the form of photos help them to picture-dial friends and relatives, simply by touching a particular photo.

Coping with getting lost

Most functions are also included on the mobile device, which comes with an important extra GPS-based feature. Dementia sufferers can get disoriented when out, and the device can guide them home whenever necessary.

The system was field-tested on user groups in three countries, and the majority of users and carers perceived significant improvement in their lives and their ability to get through the day.

Now some members of the project, which finished last August, are working to commercialise the system and market it around Europe. “About two per cent of the population of Europe suffers from mild dementia and it costs an estimated €10,000 a year to provide care for each of them when they cannot cope anymore.”

“Our devices will cost a lot less than that, and can be used again by other people when the first owner progresses too far into the disease,” says Bengtsson. “If COGKNOW only extends people’s ability to look after themselves for an extra few months, then the savings are still potentially billions of euros.”

The COGKNOW consortium is looking for new partners to help with commercialisation and marketing in the shape of an established software provider, preferably with experience in mobile applications, and companies specialising in reselling and providing solutions to the care and medical sectors in individual countries or groups of countries.

Aging in America - 2010 Annual Conference of the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging

Aging in America, the 2010 Annual Conference of the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging is recognized as:

  • a showcase for programs and projects that can be replicated,
  • a forum for policy discussion and advocacy, and
  • a prime source of information on new research findings in aging

It is the largest gathering of a diverse, multidisciplinary community of professionals from the fields of aging, healthcare and education.

Join us to find the answers, the experts, the research, the best practices, and the most comprehensive educational offerings available to professionals. The conference provides attendees with the opportunity to network with new and old friends, gain insight from voices from the front line and find new grassroots and national partners for advocacy.

Call for Presentations is now Open!
Deadline: June 29 2009

You are invited to propose a workshop or poster session for 2010 Aging in America by clicking on this link and following these steps:

Step 1: Create a presenter profile as instructed on the proposal site
Step 2: Watch for an email with your login credentials for the site
Step 3: Log in to create a proposal for a poster or workshop session

Click here for Instructions (printable), including Tips for Submission

Click here to view the Topic Areas for 2010 Presentation Proposals.

Give the gift of memory

Nowadays it is considered that about 25 millions of people suffer Alzheimer in the world, and probably in the next 20 years, 70 millions of new cases will be registered.

AFAL_logotipoAFALcontigo (AFALwith_you) was born as an Association of Relatives of Alzheimer’s Patients in Madrid (Spain) in 1989, from the desire of a group of patients’ relatives of obtaining information and support in a time when Alzheimer’s disease was almost not known. This association is currently of national scope, is declared of public utility and works together with the federated structure of the associations of Alzheimer’s patients’ relatives that already exist all over Spain.

AFALcontigo under the motto “YOUR PATIENT RELIES ON YOU, YOU RELY ON US”, has the mission of supporting biomedical investigation that searches the causes of Alzheimer’s and other dementias and giving the best quality of life to both the patient and their carer family. AFALcontigo spends its efforts to the INFORMATION, FORMATION, ASSESSMENT and SUPPORT to relatives and persons close to the sufferers, as well as REPRESENTATION of the collective of affected persons by Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

In order to achieve these purposes, AFALcontigo schedules yearly a series of activities such as:

  • Information and diffusion activities.
  • Formation activities.
  • Supportive activities for both patient and carer.
  • Representation and defence activities of patients and their relatives’ interests.

Mermoy Stick AFALThe last initiative launched by this association to help those persons that suffer this terrible ailment is the USB 1Gb bracelet of Memories. Because, as they say, “what you ate yesterday, your side of the bed, your home address, your football team, the place of spoons, reading, writing, your name, your family… everything disappears from your mind when Alzheimer appears”; AFALcontigo asks for collaboration to try to overcome it.

According to them, “whenever you buy a USB memory stick, you achieve Alzheimer erases less memories”. The device with 1Gb of memory is embedded in a blue flexible silicone bracelet with 208x17x2.8mm of size and a weight of about 17.17gr.


New experimental drug to reverse Alzheimer’s disease

The drug acts on a gene recently identified as responsible for making memories in the brain. It is the same gene that, in a research carried out in 2007, helped to restore long-term memory of mice and that improved the learning of new tasks in this animals.

DNANowadays, according to Nature magazine, researchers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that drugs that work on the gene HDAC2 (histone deacetylase 2) reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s and boost cognitive function in mice.

“This gene and its protein are promising targets for treating memory impairment”, Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, said. “HDAC2 regulates the expression of a plethora of genes implicated in plasticity – the brain’s ability to change in response to experience – and memory formation”, the investigator explains.

“It brings about long-lasting changes in how other genes are expressed, which is probably necessary to increase numbers of synapses and restructure neural circuits, thereby enhancing memory”, she said.

Same drugs used in the study – called HDAC inhibitors – currently are being tested for treating patients with Huntington’s disease and they are already available in the market to treat some kinds of cancer.

“Furthermore, this finding will lead to the development of more selective HDAC inhibitors for memory enhancement”, Tsai said. “This is exciting because more potent and safe drugs can be developed to treat Alzheimer’s and other cognition diseases by targeting this HDAC specifically”, she adds.

PillsIn the research, scientists treated mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms using HDAC inhibitors. HDACs are a family of 11 enzymes that seem to act as master regulators of gene expression.

Although they have been around for a while, HDACs are an exciting and fast growing new area of research because of their recently discovered effect on chromatin: the DNA spools in the centre of the nucleus of each cell.

This is a structure strongly compressed in which transcription of genes do not often happen. However, some types of HDAC open up the chromatin structure which is thought to ease gene transcription that would otherwise not take place when the structure is too tightly packed.

“To our knowledge, HDAC inhibitors have not been used to treat Alzheimer’s disease or dementia”, Tsai points out. “But now that we know that inhibiting HDAC2 has the potential to boost synaptic plasticity, synapse formation and memory formation, in the next step, we will develop new HDAC2-selective inhibitors and test their function for human diseases associated with memory impairment to treat neurodegenerative diseases”.

“The fact that long-term memories can be recovered by elevated histone acetylation supports the idea that apparent memory “loss” is really a reflection of inaccessible memories”, Tsai explains. “These findings are in line with a phenomenon known as ‘fluctuating memories’, in which demented patients experience temporary periods of apparent clarity”.

Parkinson's brainThe researcher adds that though some HDAC inhibitors are on the market as anti-cancer therapeutics, no specific drug targeting HDAC2 yet exists and they will still need about ten years of investigation or more in order to have an inhibitors treatment for human beings with Alzheimer’s disease.

Experts assure that the results of the study are very promising since they offer valuable information about the process of losing memory in Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia, and it is one more step in the identification of the genes involved in the risk of developing this disorder.

If the process that triggers and causes dementia can be found, they assure that someday this disease, which affects about 30 million people in the world, will be prevented.


An intelligent house for Alzheimer’s patients

They remember that when they were young they liked going to the country, but not who is the person that stands by their side. Alzheimer’s patients have a new ally in order to improve their life conditions: “humanized” technology that takes care of them when people cannot.

Some technological solutions, patented in 29 European countries, have been carried out after one year of living together researchers from the Spanish company Tulecom with patients, relatives and health personnel in order to identify their real needs.

TulecomTulecom has created, with the support of the Ministries of Industry and Science and the collaboration of universities and associations of patients with this disease, “intelligent spaces” that offer innovative applications which improve these patients’ quality of life: monitoring, accurate indoor location, access control, cognitive stimulation, falls prevention and assistance.

‘We don’t intend to substitute carers, but being there when they cannot, with friendly technology that makes easy diary life of persons with Alzheimer and that guarantees their safety’, Alberto Saavedra, president of the company which develops the “ambient intelligence” creating environments able to perceive people, identify them and answer according to each one requirements, remarks.

All of this is included in “Aliado” project, with different aspects. Its services, some of them already commercialized and others in their last phases of research, provide a wide care to those patients.

One of the main actions consists of locating the user through a chip, which is implanted in clothes and shoes (since the Alzheimer’s sufferer who undresses do not used to take off the shoes) or as an ergonomic bracelet.

This technology not only locates the exact situation like others in the market, but it has an accuracy of 40 centimetres and discriminates in three dimensions what is doing in every moment. ‘We know 24 hours a day if they are sitting at a table, lying, falling or even in front of a door. It allows acting immediately when emergencies occur because it detects any weird behaviour’, the president says.

The project involves the transformation of the housing, geriatric or hospital into “intelligent environments”, with domotic integration (technology at home).

One of the services that it offers is the control of the access to allowed zones. ‘If patients with this disease try to open the front door, they will be blocked and an alert will be sent to the carer’. The same thing happens with domestic appliances that can hurt them, such as the glass-ceramic cooktop or the heating. It also happens the contrary: ‘If they have the habit of getting up every night to go to the toilet but, because they are disorientated, they do not push the door, it will be opened automatically; the same with the illumination: if they do not switch on the light, the system will switch it on for them’.

‘Everything is managed by a system which stores the information and with “non-invasive” technology that does not require learning’, Saavedra details.

Another aspect of Aliado’s project consists of cognitive stimulation, developed to give the patient some autonomy in the absence of their carer.

In a room of the house or the hospital a tactile and sound screen which “talks” to the patients in a personalised way, recognizes them by the chip they carry and makes them to perform some activity. This device “asks” basic questions in order to train their memory and besides this it includes an innovative program that, after listening to their origins, tastes and past episodes, tries to reproduce them with the best possible fidelity. ‘If the user tells the town where he comes from and that he liked travelling to Rome, the computer will show images of his native town and the Italian city in order to revive his memories and promote the reasoning’.

TulecomTulecom helps to prevent falls by means of an accelerometer since it detects if a patient staggers, something that, according to Saavedra’s explanations, happens “a while before” they fall. ‘We are capable of warning the doctor before the fall happens’, he points out.

This technology also monitors patients. If the cardiac rhythm or another indicator varies, it is transmitted to a central system that notifies it to the right person.

Innovations continue: the Spanish company works with the University of Castilla-La Mancha in order to create a TDT channel to send all patient alerts. ‘A window in the screen will remember they should take their pills’, the president of Tulecom clarifies.

To those functions the creation of a tasks manager for nurses or carers, which will maximize their time that is translated into direct attention to the patient, is added. Besides this a roaming application for the drivers who carry them to the day centre is also developed in order to never lose the patient.

At the beginning of this year, Tulecom started the commercialization of some of these services: location, monitoring and control of access, which had been already launched at the end of 2008 in some places such as the nursing home of the Association of Alzheimer’s Patients and Relatives (AFA) in Salamanca, Spain. During the project they also had the collaboration of the University of Salamanca, the University of Madrid and the Technological Centre for Telecommunications Development of Castilla y León (CEDETEL).

The rest of applications will be in the market by 2010 and the Clinical Hospital of Salamanca, the Holy Trinity Hospital Foundation of Salamanca, LARES nursing homes of Castilla y León, the Hospital of Fuenlabrada and the Alzheimer Boni Mediero nursing home of Salamanca will be the first final users of the project.

The company, founded in 2006 and composed of 27 workers, operates in Castilla y León, where its headquarters is located, but also in Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Andalucía. They aspire to “grow” with their project in Europe. ‘It is a very ambitious project that will give great welfare to dependent people’.


A simple test could distinguish who will go on to develop Alzheimer’s

A simple test that detects hyperactivity of a brain region which plays a vital role in memory could be enough to determine if the patient will develop the Alzheimer’s disease and therefore receive treatment before first symptoms appear.

Oxford researcherThis is the main conclusion of a research carried out by the University of Oxford and the Imperial College of London, in which it has been compared the brain activity of 36 volunteers aged between 20 and 35, half of them with gene ApoE4, related with this disease.

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides clues as to why certain people develop Alzheimer’s disease and it may be a step towards a diagnostic test that identifies individuals at risk. The degenerative condition is the most common cause of dementia and it affects around 417,000 people in the UK.

The ApoE4 genetic variant is found in about a quarter of the population. Not everyone who carries the variant will go on the develop Alzheimer’s, but people who inherit one copy of ApoE4 have up to four times the normal risk of developing the late-onset variety of the disease. People who have two copies have around ten times the normal risk.

The researchers behind the study stress that most carriers of ApoE4 will not go on to develop Alzheimer’s and carriers should not be alarmed by the study’s findings.

HippocampusDifferences in the region of the brain involved in memory, known as the hippocampus, have previously been shown in middle-aged and elderly healthy carriers of ApoE4. The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for forming memories and for spatial orientation. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain to be damaged, and its effects are seen early in Alzheimer’s by disorientation of the patient.

However, the new Oxford University and Imperial study is the first to show hyperactivity in the hippocampus of healthy young carriers. It is also the first to show that ApoE4 carriers’ brains behave different even at ‘rest’.

The study used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) carried out at the University of Oxford to compare activity inside the brains of the 36 volunteers, with 18 carrying at least one copy of the ApoE4 gene and 18 non-carriers acting as controls.

The researchers looked at how the volunteers’ brains behaved while they were resting and also while they were performing a memory-related task. Even when the ApoE4 carriers were resting, the researchers could see that carriers and non-carriers each had distinct patterns of brain activity. The fMRI scans showed visible differences in how the hippocampus was relating to the rest of the brain.

Alzheimer's brain scanning‘We have shown that brain activity is different in people with this version of the gene decades before any memory problems might develop’, Dr Clare Mackay, the lead author of the study from the Department of Psychiatry and the Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain at the University of Oxford, said. ‘We’ve also shown that this form of fMRI, where people just lie in the scanner doing nothing, is sensitive enough to pick up these changes. These are exciting first steps towards a tantalising prospect: a simple test that will be able to distinguish who will go on to develop Alzheimer’s’, Dr Mackay pointed too.

Dr Christian Beckmann, another author of the study from the Division of Neurosciences and Mental Health at the Imperial College of London, added: ‘We’re very surprised of seeing that even when volunteers who carry the gene didn’t do anything, the part of their brain related with memory worked harder than the rest of volunteers. Not all the ApoE4 carriers go on to develop Alzheimer’s, but it would make sense if in some people, the memory part of the brain effectively becomes exhausted form overwork and this contributes to the disease. This theory is supported by studies that have found the opposite pattern in people who have developed Alzheimer’s, with these people showing less activity than normal in the memory part of the brain’.


Alzheimer’s vaccine will be tested on humans at the end of 2010

Araclon Biotech has obtained its first European Patent for a vaccine therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. The company hopes to start the regulatory pre-clinical development of the vaccine this year, with the aim of starting clinical trials on humans at the end of 2010.

The conclusions obtained concerning toxicity and efficacy in the animal models used has encouraged the company’s high expectations for future clinical results. Receiving the patent in the European Union, granted by the European Patent Office is a big break for the company’s ambitious project.

Araclon_BiotechDoes this step mean that this remedy can be used? No, not yet. Until now, researchers, led by Dr. Manuel Sarasa, Professor of Anatomy and Comparative Pathology of the University of Zaragoza, have used animal models, mainly dogs. “Dog reproduces quite well Alzheimer’s injuries in human beings and because of that we chose it”, Pilar de la Huerta, Araclon Biotech executive advisor, pointed out.

“This is the first vaccine developed in Spain as a therapy for this disease and one of the few in the world”, Sarasa, who has been studying Alzheimer for twenty years, added.

However, although it is very difficult to foresee the efficiency that this therapy will have in human beings, the truth is that in animal experimentation it is 100%.

To achieve this, several antibodies, which have led to this vaccine, were developed and patented. At the moment, researchers are very optimistic with the future. ‘Other companies have developed vaccines that, when they passed to the testing-in-humans phase, were effective but toxic, so they could not be used’ - Pilar de la Huerta explains -. ‘Nonetheless, our studies show that this one, at the moment, is not”.

Professor Sarasa’s last discoveries show that Amyloid-Beta protein, which is related to the disease, is not only in senile plaques but also in neurofibrillary tangles. The objective of the vaccine is to go directly to the molecule, which is considered the cause of the disease, and reduce its levels. This is a bet to the detriment of other solutions as enzymes inhibiting therapies.

On the other hand, this team thinks that the mistake of previous researches to heal the disease has been that they chose persons who already had the problem. Because of that, they want to begin testing with healthy volunteers.

Araclon_Biotech_professionalsAraclon Biotech was founded in 2004 by Professor Manuel Sarasa and after two years began to work with the help of investors. Dedicated to the research and development of therapies and diagnostic methods of degenerative diseases, nowadays it focuses on Alzheimer’s disease.

The company, which has its main laboratories at the Montecanal Clinic of Zaragoza and in Logroño, develops other lines of research. For example, a diagnostic kit for the disease that, with a blood sample, allows detecting and quantifying 40 and 42 Amyloid-Beta proteins (related to Alzheimer) with a higher sensibility than the one it was being achieved. After initial studies, the forecast is that this year it might begin to be sold in Spain as a kit.

Specifically, between 2008 and 2010, the company plans to invest around 12 million euros in I+D in their three lines of research: development and perfecting of the diagnostic kit for the disease, efficient therapy for Alzheimer (vaccine) and development of a predictive kit for this pathology.

According to the 2007 Annual Report from the Spanish Association of Bioenterprises (ASEBIO), of the 639 patents conceded to Spanish biotech companies in 2007, 85% were Spanish patents and the remaining 15% were from the U.S.A., but none were European Patents. These figures show us the important of this Patent for Araclon Biotech and for the biotechnology sector in Spain.

The vaccine having received the European Patent has already received the Patent in Spain and other markets outside the E.U. Araclon Biotech trust that it will soon also obtain the patent in the United States, the leading market in the world. The biotechnology company is currently involved in more than thirty international proceedings for obtaining patents.





It is estimated that by 2050 one-third of Europe’s population will be over 60. Life expectancy has on average already risen by 2.5 years per decade and the number of old people aged 80+ is expected to grow by 180%.

Nowadays, there are 5.5 million cases of Alzheimer-afflicted people in Europe and more new cases being added every year. In fact, Alzheimer disease has been called the ‘plague of the 21st century’. There is currently no cure for this disease; however, prevention and early diagnosis may play a huge role in delaying the onset of the worst effects of this severe disease.

The challenging aim of our three-year STREP project, which commenced in September 2006, is to breakthrough with research that addresses the needs of those with dementia, particularly those with mild dementia in Europe.

This entails cognitive reinforcement and may be expressed as the social objectives of our research for the needs of people with dementia, helping people to remember, maintain social contact, perform daily life activities and enhance their feelings of safety.

On the other hand, the aim of the project is to develop solutions that help ageing people with early dementia to experience greater autonomy and feelings of empowerment and to enjoy and enhanced quality of life.

We have published a video explaining the COGKNOW concept, and can be accessed, as other documents, in the Document section.

26thJune 9:30-16:30 - European-level Business Opportunity Workshop at the Excelsior Hotel, Malta








The event in Malta will now focus on the commercialisation of the product and our aim is attracting several businesses and investors from Europe that are working in the same telecare and ehealth area. We want to establish a business opportunity together in order to move forward from demonstration to finished product that can be sold in several European countries. Around 50 people are expected at the event and the format will be similar to round table discussions and workshops. There will also be a demo area where we will prepare a home-like environment in order to show case COGKNOW in its full glory to the audience.

The event will be free of charge including lunch and networking dinner on one of the most beautiful shores of the Maltese islands. A parallel agenda for accompanying persons will be created and since the event is hosted on Friday, for those wishing to stay over the weekend, there will be also two days packed of adventure and cultural events.

Special rates have been obtained at the Excelsior Hotel which will be the venue of the event. For more information and booking please contact Ms Kerry Freeman on [email protected] or book from AcrossLimits website by clicking here.



08:30  Welcome Coffee and Registration

09:00  Introduction by Angele GIULIANO, AcrossLimits

09:15  Keynote speech by Maltese Ministry for Health

09:30  Opportunities for Connected Health in Europe - COGKNOW Representative

09:40  Public and private funding for eHealth solutions - Business Angels, Malta Enterprise

        10:15  Coffee break

10:30  Group discussion - Commonalities and Differences between the ICT health markets in the different countries

11:30  COGKNOW: The project, the consortium and its results - Johan E. BENGTSSON, CDH, and Ricardo CASTELLOT, Telefonica I+D

12:15  Demonstration session - Chris NUGENT, University of Ulster

        12:45  Lunch

14:00  COGKNOW Business model, critical questions from business assessment workshops - Timber HAAKER, Novay

14:30  Conclusions from morning discussion - Rapporteurs

14:45  Group discussion - On the way forward in a commercial environment for COGKNOW

        15:30  Coffee break

15:45  Continued discussion

16:15  Plenary with summary of discussions and moving forward - Angele GIULIANO

17:00  End of the seminar

        20:30  Networking dinner at Westin Dragonara Resort, St. Julians, Malta



For more information, please contact Ms Angele Giuliano on [email protected]


A new important molecule for Alzheimer was found

The discovery of a molecule that gets involved in recognition memory can lead to better understanding human cognitive process of information storage, and achieving a future treatment for this disease currently incurable.

A group of investigators from the University of Bristol, England, identified a new important molecule in the function of a part of the memory that allows the recognition of people.

Alzheimer’s disease - a type of dementia that represents between the 50 and the 80 per cent of the total of dementias - is a progressive and degenerative brain condition that affects memory, thought and behaviour. Nowadays, about 25 million of people in the world suffer Alzheimer, and probably in the next 20 years an average of 70 million of new cases will appear.

The memory alteration is a necessary characteristic for the diagnostic of Alzheimer and other dementias. About 10% of people elder than 70 years have significant memory problems and nearly the half are due to Alzheimer’s disease. The elder a person, the bigger the risk of developing the disease - although the disorder is not necessarily a part of the normal aging.

Linked to Alzheimer is one of the biggest scientific challenges of the twenty-first century: understanding human cognition.  At the heart of this question is how information is stored in the brain of humans and other mammals.

Currently, most of scientists accept that the main mechanism by which the brain carries out the activity of storing information resides in the ability that neurons have to change in strength their connections (synapse). This process is known as synaptic plasticity.

Synaptic plasticity is the property that emerges from the nature and working of the neurons when they establish communication between them. It modulates the perception of the stimuli with the environment, both the ones which go in and the ones which go out.

A single neuron can integrate between 10,000 and 15,000 connections, all of them from other neurons and glial cells. If we take into account that the whole brain has an average of 100,000 million of neurons, the quantity of existing synapse in a human brain is a number really difficult to imagine.

Synaptic plasticity constitutes the support of such disparate process as learning and memory, adaptation to new physiological situations as pregnancy and thirst, as well as the base of the nervous system recovery after injuring.

The Research

The research, recently published in the scientific magazine Neuron and led by Professor Kei Cho form the Department of Medicine of the University of Bristol, identified a new molecule that is important for one of the major forms of synaptic plasticity known as long-term depression’ (LTD).

Synapse is not a rigid process, but it varies due to body activity patterns. In many synapses, a repetitive activity can lead not only to a short-term alteration, but to modifications that can last hours, days or even they can become permanent.

The two phenomena associated to these changes are known as long-term empowerment and the already mentioned long-term depression (LTD). Both have been postulated as substrates of learning and memory.

It has been found that the molecule known as neural calcium sensor-1(NCS-1), which had previously been identified as a molecule designed to detect minute amounts of calcium, is required for LTD. Probably, this form of synaptic plasticity is the base of some forms of learning and memory in the brain. Therefore, NCS-1 is likely to be an important molecule for the memory.

Professor Cho said: “This work is particularly pertinent since it was conducted in a brain region, the perirhinal cortex, which is important for recognition memory - the memory that you have seen a person before, for example. This type of memory is impaired at an early stage during Alzheimer’s disease and so understanding the molecular basis of synaptic plasticity in this region of the brain may, one day, lead to better cures and treatments for this devastating disease”.


At the moment, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but very positive results were obtained when applying techniques of training memory in order to delay the symptoms.

Nowadays, efforts are directed to implement general methods, which treat patient symptoms using medicines that alleviate their problems, and also to support relatives that live with these persons, since in most cases the evolution of the disease is very hard and long.



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COGKNOW is funded by the European Comission within the IST-2005/2006-2.5.11 (Unit H3 - eInclusion) Contract #034025

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