Two potentially positive stories relating to dementia are circulating in the media this week.
The first, based upon research conducted at the Rockefeller University in New York, is suggesting that Riluzole – a drug currently used to treat forms of motor neurone disease by preventing connections between brain cells from weakening – could potentially have long-term benefits for those suffering from dementia and even prevent those ‘senior moments’ to which all of us over the age of forty tend to be susceptible.
The second is a breakthrough discovery made by researcher working at UCLA in California. Working with the brains of snails, they believe they have disproved the long-held medical theory that memories are stored in synapses (the connections between brain cells) which are gradually destroyed by Alzheimer’s Disease, which then results in loss of memory.
Writing in the respected journal eLife, lead author Professor David Glanzman maintains that just because the disease destroys synapses in the brain doesn’t mean that the memories are themselves destroyed.
The nervous system can regenerate lost synaptic connections and, in doing so, also the memories.
This finding suggests that memories are not held in the synapses themselves, as previously thought, but in the neurons that the synapses connect to each other. Professor Glanzman writes ‘’We think [the memory] is in the nucleus of the neurons. We haven’t proved that, though.’
His thrust however is that, as long as the neurons are still alive, the memory will still be there and therefore it should be theoretically possible – in the early stages of Alzheimer’s – to recover it. What is clear is that, when the neuron dies, the memory goes with it.
All this is very exciting news indeed for those, like myself, who may be prone to occasional ‘senior moments’.
We have a convention in our family that, if any member of an older generation is caught repeating a story he or she has told before, the listener can indicate this (without causing either themselves or the speaker embarrassment) by silently raising a vertical flat hand [the ‘How’ gesture of greeting used by Native Americans, or Red Indians as we called them in my day – indeed, going off at a tangent for a moment, wasn’t there once a Southern Television kids’ science programme called How in which the presenters habitually used the gesture?] … and thereby bring the story to a halt.
Now – where was I?
Oh yes … ‘senior moments’.
As it happens, I had one of my own last night.
Having driven through the Christmas exodus, early rush hour, road works-affected, heavy traffic to Luton Airport yesterday afternoon in order to collect my son Barry, who was coming home for a few days over the festive period, we then went out for a relaxed meal at a local oriental restaurant.
Apart from him being interrupted by two work calls from Portugal, which disrupted the flow of our conversation (and meal) for ten to fifteen minutes in total, I felt we were making good progress in our ‘catch-up’ session – or at least I was – until the point where Barry was outlining some of the current issues relating to the new business venture that he is planning to set up next summer.
At one point, recognising in the situation he was describing echoes of a similar episode that I remembered from my own business past, I took up the thread by beginning to outline the background to my example.
I was just warming to my task, quietly enjoying in anticipation the fascinating details yet to come, when I noticed … on the other side of the table … Barry’s right arm slowly but deliberately coming up in the ‘flat hand’ gesture.
“Bugger! …” I exclaimed in frustration, “… I’ve told this one before, haven’t I?”
“Yes, Dad – several times …” came the reply.