New rehab for Alzheimer's patients

You've heard of rehab for your body, but what about rehab for your brain?

Mild cognitive impairment happens when a person has memory problems, but can still function well in everyday life.

But there's good news!

Doctors say a form of rehab can help these patients train their brains.
Remembering faces, names, where you put your keys, these are struggles for people with mild cognitive impairment.

This woman is embarrassed about her condition. She's in the first stages of Alzheimer's and doesn't want to be identified.

"If I had three words, I wouldn't be able to remember those three words,” she says. “It would confuse me."

She's taking part in a study that's testing whether cognitive rehabilitation can improve memory.

In one exercise, a therapist asks a series of questions to help the patient learn where an object is placed. In this case, why is the money on a shelf?

The idea - the patient comes up with a reason that will help her remember the location. Other exercises focus on matching a facial feature with a person's name.

"You can do the bushy facial hair, and Bushy Ben would be an example of that,” explains Benjamin M. Hampstead with Emory University.

For one study, patients received three training sessions and had two MRI scans. After the cognitive rehab, certain areas of the brain were much more active.

"So their brains remain plastic,” describes Hampstead. “They're capable of learning these new techniques."

Up to 20 percent of people 65 and up have mild cognitive impairment. Between one-third and two-thirds will go on to develop dementia or Alzheimer's. But Hampstead says starting therapy earlier can make a difference.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to prolong their functioning for as long as possible," he says.

Rehab that really does train the brain.

Hampstead says that some patients with mild cognitive impairment will improve to normal.

He says factors like emotional distress may play a role in memory decline.

REPORT #2000

BACKGROUND: Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes. (SOURCE:

SYMPTOMS: The brain, like the rest of the body, changes with age. Many people notice gradually increasing forgetfulness as they age, but consistent or increasing concern about mental performance may suggest mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Some signs to watch out for include:

* Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions, planning steps to accomplish a task or interpreting instructions
* Getting lost in familiar environments

MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT VS. ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE: Unlike Alzheimer's Disease (AD) where cognitive abilities gradually decline, the memory deficits in MCI may remain stable for years. However, some individuals with MCI develop cognitive deficits and functional impairment consistent with AD. Whether MCI is a disorder distinct from AD or a very early phase of AD is a topic of continuing investigation. (SOURCE:

RISK FACTORS: The risk factors most strongly linked to MCI are the same as those for dementia: advancing age, family history of Alzheimer's or another dementia, and conditions that raise risk for cardiovascular disease. (SOURCE:

TREATMENT: No medications are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat mild cognitive impairment. However, the following coping strategies may be helpful for those with MCI:

* Control cardiovascular risk factors to protect the heart and blood vessels, including those that support brain function.
* Participate in mentally-stimulating and socially-engaging activities, which may help sustain brain function.

There is also Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy (CRT). CRT is the process of relearning cognitive skills that have been lost or altered as a result of damage to brain cells/chemistry. CRT Services are directed to achieve functional changes by:

* Reinforcing, strengthening, or establishing previously learned patterns of behavior.
* Establishing new patterns of cognitive activity or mechanisms to compensate for impaired neurological systems.
* Tailoring interventions to help the individual be as independent as possible in the management of his or her everyday routines and responsibilities in their home and community.

? For More Information, Contact:

Casey Bowden
Research Project Coordinator
Center for Rehabilitation Medicine
Emory University School of Medicine
(404) 712-4321

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