A number of important discoveries have been made about Alzheimer's disease recently, and the cause is getting an extra push from the Obama administration. On the heels of several newly-released studies of the cognitive disease, the administration announced it will make $50 million immediately available for Alzheimer's research, and will include an additional $80 million to the 2013 federal budget.
This budgeting comes more than a year after Obama signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act, calling for an aggressive national plan to combat the disease, which is currently affecting as many as 5.1 million Americans.
Scientists have not simply been waiting around, though. Two separate studies recently found that Alzheimer's disease "jumps" from cell to cell to spread throughout the brain, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, a report published in Online First by Archives of Neurology showed revised criteria for mild cognitive impairment in order to clarify diagnoses of Alzheimer's or dementia.
AARP reports that even more studies have shown that physical and mental exercises may protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease. In one, researchers analyzed the exercise habits of 163 adults ages 45 to 88 who showed no signs of dementia and gave them brain scans. They found that participants who did not exercise regularly had levels of the Alzheimer's protein in their brains that was more extensive.
"Exercise is number one," Rudolph Tanzi, director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the news outlet. "What seems to happen is, during exercise, the brain turns on the enzymes that break down the amyloid. So for prevention, I think the strongest data comes with physical exercise."
However, mental exercise seems to help, too. Another study quantified the way mentally stimulating activities can protect people from Alzheimer's, the news outlet reports. Scientists at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California in Berkeley asked 65 healthy older adults with no Alzheimer's symptoms questions about how frequently they participated in activities like reading, writing and playing games at age 6, 12, 18, 40 and now. After analyzing brain scans, scientists found that people who had the highest level of mental stimulation had the lowest levels of the Alzheimer's protein in their brains.