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Scientists find link between infection and memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease

Published: 7 September 2009

People with Alzheimer’s disease who develop an infection need to be treated as soon as possible to prevent it worsening their dementia, according to research conducted by University of Southampton scientists.

The research, published today (7 September) in Neurology, found a link between common infections, such as a cold, stomach bug or urine infection and an increase in inflammation like reactions in the brain which led to an increased rate of cognitive decline.

Researchers, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, investigated how inflammatory proteins released during an infection might affect the brain. Results showed that people who got an infection had twice the rate of cognitive decline as people without infections.

The study’s author, Professor Clive Holmes, from the University’s School of Medicine, worked with Professor Hugh Perry, from the School of Biological Sciences. Professor Holmes commented: “One might guess that people with a more rapid rate of cognitive decline are more susceptible to infections or injury, but we found no evidence to suggest that people with more severe dementia were more likely to have infections or injuries at the beginning of the study.

“More research needs to be done to understand the role of tumour necrosis factor-alpha, but it's possible that finding a way to reduce these levels could be beneficial for people with Alzheimer's disease."

Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of Research, Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This study is an important step towards understanding the processes that occur during the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. We know there might be a link between inflammatory processes and Alzheimer’s but this is not yet fully understood. These findings are helping us to understand more about possible reasons for this link. More research is now needed to further this line of investigation.

“In the meantime it’s important that older people, people with dementia and carers treat any infection seriously and seek medical help. Professionals treating people with Alzheimer’s disease also have a responsibility to be vigilant in their efforts to treat infections in people with Alzheimer’s disease early and effectively.”

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