U of L researchers exploring if touch could slow dementia’s onset
A new study looking at the impact tactile stimulation, such as massaging and touching, is having on mice has researchers at the University of Lethbridge hoping one day it'll help those living with Alzheimer's disease.
"If you imagine that you fall and scrape your hand and what do you do? You rub your hand. And why do you do that? Because it feels better. And why does it feel better? Well, obviously, something is going on in your head that is affecting your brain," said Dr. Bryan Kolb, a neuroscientist at the U of L.
"So, the idea is maybe we can use tactile stimulation as a way of modifying brain activity."
The study involved mice specifically bred to develop Alzheimer's.
The mice either received tactile stimulation daily from birth until weaning (21 days) or, in a separate study, they received TS for 15 days beginning at four months of age.
Control mice received no tactile stimulation.
"By doing that three times a day, we were able to influence the onset of dementia – that is we slowed it down – in fact, we seemed to have blocked it altogether in these animals," Kolb explained.
At five and a half months of age, the experimenters used a series of tests to assess whether tactile stimulation had led to improvements in cognition, motor skills and anxiety behaviours and, at six months of age, the degree of plaque formation and hippocampal volume.
Plaque formation in these mice normally begins around three months of age and by six months, the plaque formation in the brain is saturated and is associated with large deficits in cognition, anxiety and motor skills.
The study is also looking to increase knowledge about what happens in the brain with Alzheimer’s and find more therapeutic treatments.
Around 60,000 Albertans live with dementia and the Alzheimer Society is thrilled to see the new study unfolding.
"Touch is one of the first senses we gain in the womb and it's one of the last senses we lose at the end of life," said Colleen Beck, navigator, client services with the Alzheimer Society.
"So, to hear the university is taking on sensory stimulation is so important."
Beck says ongoing research at the U of L and across the country is vital, as the disease can impact so many.
"It's not about when you lose your keys for the car because we all do that – we all misplace them,” Beck said. “A time to be concerned is when we get in the car and we don't understand the car. It's foreign to us – we don't know how to start it.”
Although a cure for Alzheimer's has yet to be found, those working on the study hope to one day introduce it to humans.
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