George Huntington, On Chorea

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George Huntington (1850-1916) was a medical practitioner in Dutchess County New York.

His father and grandfather had both been doctors, and his family had lived on Long Island since 1797.

He gave his classic presentation, “On Chorea”, at the Meiga and Mason Academy of Medicine in Middleport Ohio in 1972, and this was subsequently published in the Medical and Surgical Reporter of Philadelphia on April 13, 1872.

This took place just one year after he graduated from his medical training at Columbia University.

He later explained his interest in the condition that now bears his name:

Over 50 years ago, in riding with my father on his rounds, I saw my first case of the “disorder”, which is the way the natives always referred to the dreaded disease.  I recall it as vividly as though it had just occurred but yesterday.  It made a most enduring impression on my boyish mind, an impression which was the very first impulse to my choosing chorea as my virgin contribution to the medical lore.  Driving with my father through a wooded road leading from East Hampton to Amagansett we suddenly came upon two women both bowing, twisting, grimacing.  I stared in wonderment, almost in fear.  What could it mean?  My father paused to speak with them and we passed on.  Then my Gamaliel-like instruction began; my medical instruction had its inception.  From this point on my interest in the disease has never wholly ceased.

Huntington’s disease (HD) is now know to be caused by a genetic mutation.  It is inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion, so that any child of an affected person typically has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease.  The mutation is a triplet repeat, so the genetics of HD lead to anticipation, a phenomenon whereby the disease may begin earlier and more severely in each successive generation.

HD can present at any age, but most often begins around 35-44 years with psychiatric disturbance such as depression or forgetfulness.  Neurological manifestations such as unsteady gait and the  jerky body movements (chorea) noted by George Huntington come later, followed by a progressive dementia.

Genetic testing is available, but pre-symptomatic testing for family members, who are at increased risk for the disease, is controversial since there is no treatment for HD.

Find out more about HD from the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

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Limbic Encephalitis

Post prepared by Precious Ramirez-Arao, Monmouth Medical Center PGY3

A 60 year-old female was found lethargic lying in a pool of feces by roommate.

EMS was called and was immediately brought to the hospital.

In the emergency department she had a witnessed generalized tonic-clonic seizure.

Her roommate relates she had episodes of confusion and short-term memory loss over the past few weeks.

She remained lethargic over the next 72 hours in the hospital.

48-hour EEG monitoring showed diffuse 2 to 3 Hz delta slowing with periodic lateralized epileptiform discharges emanating from the left frontal temporal region.

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T2 weighted image of the brain showed signal abnormality of the left mesial temporal lobe and the pulvinar with diffusion restriction in the left hippocampus consistent with limbic encephalitis.

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Limbic encephalitis (LE) is a subacute syndrome of seizures, personality change and cognitive dysfunction, typically evolving over days to weeks.

Autoimmune and paraneoplastic forms have been described. The most common neoplasms associated with paraneoplastic LE are lung cancer (usually small cell), thymoma, ovarian or testicular teratoma, breast cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma. The associated autoantibody depends on the tumor type. Lung cancer and thymomas are associated with anti-VGKC while ovarian or testicular teratomas are associated with antiNMDA antibodies.

Neurologic symptoms can precede oncologic diagnosis for several months to years and initial CT scans are typically unrevealing.

Nevertheless, prompt and thorough evaluation for malignancy including PET and CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis should be initiated. Symptomatic treatment includes corticosteroids, plasmapharesis and intravenous immune globulin.

 

CJD – A downward spiral of depression into dementia and death

Post prepared by Dr Mariam Kemal, PGY-3 (Internal medicine), Monmouth Medical Center

Case History:

This 66 year old female had been living alone independently.  However, her neighbors became concerned when she had seemed more withdrawn than usual for about a month, and then stopped going out of the house and paying her utility bills.  Ultimately, one of them  noticed a dead cat in the house, and immediately called patient’s son who lived out-of- state, and he requested that she be admitted hospital.  At the time of her initial evaluation, she was depressed and had a urinary tract infection.  She was treated for the infection, and when she expressed suicidal ideation she was transferred to the psychiatric unit. While she was on the psychiatric unit she developed slurred speech, right arm clumsiness and and unsteady gait.   She was transferred back to the medical service and underwent a diagnostic evaluation.   Her brain MRI showed diffusion restriction in left putamen and caudate nucleus. Her EEG was also abnormal.  Her spinal fluid was ultimately positive for presence of Protein 14-3-3, indicating Creutzfeldt –Jacob disease.  She has progressed to a very debilitated state in just two week – Her speech was limited to a few intermittent slurred words, she was not able to walk and had diffuse myoclonic jerks. She was transferred to hospice.  Her brain was sent for autopsy to The National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center which confirmed the presence of abnormal protease resistant prion protein (PrPSc), commonly identified as PrP 27-30, confirming the diagnosis of sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.
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What is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease?

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (“CJD”) is a rare brain disorder that causes rapidly progressive dementia with muscle twitching, leading to death within several months.

CJD usually affects older adults.


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It is caused by abnormal proteins called “prions” that infect the brain.

“Classic” CJD has been transmitted by infected organs during transplant surgery.

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“Variant” CJD (“mad cow disease”) has been transmitted by infected beef.

In addition to dementia and myoclonus, many CJD patients also exhibit behavioral change (including depression), balance problems, and sleep disturbance.

It is the presence of these unusual clinical features, and the rapid rate of clinical deterioration, that distinguish CJD from other dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.

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How is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease diagnosed?

MRI imaging of the brain can show characteristic findings:

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The electroencephalogram (EEG) can show periodic complexes:

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The spinal fluid can show the 14-3-3 protein.

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However, a brain biopsy demonstrating spongiform change is still necessary to confirm the diagnosis in many cases:

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How is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease treated?

Sadly, there are no treatments that can stop or cure the disease, and all affected patients die within several months.

Playing video games improves aging brain function

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We know from previous blogs that there is an escalating incidence of dementia.

We know that the strongest risk factor for developing dementia is old age.

However, we also know that dementia is not an inevitable consequence of old age.

Why do some older adults get dementia and others don’t?

Instead of looking for dementia risk factors, some researchers have turned the tables on this question, and looking at things that might be protective, reduce the likelihood of age related dementia.

This could translate into activities or behaviors  anyone could use to lower their dementia risk.

For example, regular exercise and social stimulation have been shown to lower dementia risk.

New research published in Nature looks at the relationship between brain function and video games performance in aging adults.

The investigators designed a game called NeuroRacer in which the player drives a virtual car along a track and must respond to the appearance of specific road signs by pressing a button. The trick is that the player has to attend to one type of sign only, ignore the others, and continue “driving” all the while.  Then, as the participants learned the game and improved their scores, the game gets harder and harder.

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The study had 46 participants, aged 60-85, engage in 12 hours of the training over the course of a month. During that time, they vastly improved their performance, and at the end of that study they played just as well as 20-year olds.  Furthermore, these gains in brain function persisted for more than 6-months, and more importantly weren’t limited to gaming – study participants also showed improved attention and working memory.

Click here to find out more.

New cure for dementia?

Probably not.

However, this study does demonstrate that older adults can still re-shape their brain connections, and also re-affirms that the old adage, if you don’t use it you lose it, also includes brain function!
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Maybe it’s time to start playing chess or BrainAge regularly?

Robots helping dementia patients live independently

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We have already blogged about the Alzheimer’s epidemic.

There are already more than 5 million affected patients, and Alzheimer’s is now the 6th leading cause of death in the US.

 Caregivers spend an average of 70 to 100 hours per week providing care to an affected family member.

Alzheimer’s patients cope better in familiar surroundings.   They get worse more quickly when socially isolated.   It is more cost effective to keep affected patients at home for as long as possible, avoiding expensive residential care.

However, many caregivers need to go to work, and cannot be at home with their affected family member 24/7.

New programs using robots to provide social contact and even supervision for Alzheimer’s patients on their own at home may provide a cost effective solution to this problem.

Robot “pets” have already been used to encourage emotional behaviors for socially isolated dementia patients.

Scotland’s National Health Service  is putting robots into the rural homes of some dementia patients in a pilot scheme to help them to continue to live independently.

A relative or carer – potentially hundreds of miles away – can drive the machine around the house to check that everything is all right. The pair can also have a chat through a two-way video call system.

The robots are about 5ft tall, on wheels and have a TV screen instead of a head.

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A relative or carer can connect to the robot with a computer from any location. Their face will appear on the screen allowing them to chat to the other person.

The operator can also drive the robot around the house to check that medication is being taken and that food is being eaten.

Find out more about this innovative program.

Ongoing studies are showing that robots can provide affordable personalized cognitive stimulation, motivation and companionship to dementia patients, and potentially keep them living independently longer.

Find out more about caring for Alzheimer’s patients at home.

Another reason to take snoring seriously! Sleep apnea linked to strokes.

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Sleep apnea, the disorder that causes a person to stop breathing suddenly while sleeping, is already known to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, and daytime sleepiness.

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A new study suggests that the sleep disorder is also linked with small brain lesions and a symptomless form of stroke, known as silent stroke.

In the study, 56 men and women ( aged 44 to 75 years) who’d had a recent stroke or TIA underwent overnight polysomnograms.  91% had sleep apnea.

Furthermore, having more than five episodes of sleep apnea in a night was linked with having multiple extra “silent strokes” on their brain imaging studies.

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Silent strokes don’t cause any symptoms as they occur, so a person typically doesn’t know he or she has suffered one, but they can eventually lead to memory loss and difficulties with walking, as their effects accumulate over the years.”

Yet another reason to take the on-line sleepiness test, and if your score is >10 see a sleep specialist and/or get an overnight polysomnogram in a certified sleep laboratory.