A company called Alkahest has been testing the idea of treating dementia with blood infusions. The rationale for this approach begins with a process called “heterochronic parabiosis,” (Say that 10 times!) in which the circulatory system of a young mouse is connected to that of an old mouse. Young blood mixes with old blood and Voila! The infusion of “young” blood into the old mouse (even just the plasma), rejuvenates the old mouse. The old mouse, flush with young blood, has improved quality-of-life, possibly because of increased neurogenesis, the ability to produce new brain cells.
The components of blood (mice and human) change with age. Detrimental factors, like cytokines and inflammatory molecules, increase; beneficial components, like growth factors, decrease. So, the thinking goes, an infusion of young blood may rebalance the blood so that it promotes health rather than decline.
Mice are not people, of course, so Steven Braithwaite, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer at Alkahest is moving on to experimenting with humans. They have taken donated blood from 18-year-old teens and infused it into older persons suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. At this point, they are just testing safety and tolerability. 
Something similar was tried a few years back but limited the infusion to just one component of blood, immunoglobulin. No success! Braithwaite hopes that using complete blood, with all of its components, will be more successful.
The multifactorial approach sounds good. My question and perhaps the more important question is why old blood goes bad in the first place. I’ll grant that the general aging process takes a toll. But my guess is that some old blood is worse than other old blood of the same age. It seems likely that a person’s lifestyle choices would change the quality (age?) of their blood. The blood of a sedentary, fast-food-eating, smoker is probably kind of yucky and “old.” For that matter, some “young” blood might not be that appetizing either.
So, while I’m waiting for Braithwaite and company to perfect their Dracula Protocol I am going to use preventive measures to keep my own aging blood as healthy as possible.
YOUR MAGNETIC MIND
Is your head mysteriously drawn towards your refrigerator? Does your forehead get stuck on the freezer door as you scan the fridge below for the perfect mid-day snack? If so, you may be collecting nanomagnets in your brain.
That’s right. It has been known for a while that the brain harbors magnetic particles derived from the iron used in normal brain function. But new research suggests that some of the mini-magnets (magnetite) in your brain get there through industrial air pollution. As you might expect, urban dwellers in highly industrialized areas are at risk for the greatest exposure.
And, here’s the bad news you knew was coming. People with Alzheimer’s tend to have unusually high concentrations of magnetite in their brains.
WHAT’S A NINE LETTER WORD FOR . . .
Well, I never! Research out of The University of Exeter Medical School shows a strong correlation between time spent playing word puzzles, like crosswords, with improvements in certain cognitive functions.
Keith Wesnes, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We found direct relationships between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks assessing a range of aspects of function including attention, reasoning and memory.”
Does this mean that doing crosswords puzzles is the secret to cognitive wellness? Will doing crosswords every day prevent the onset of dementia? No. There’s more to brain health than cognition and the nine aspects of cognition that can be improved with puzzling. Crosswords by themselves will help stimulate parts of your brain but more is needed.
Try doing crossword puzzles while jogging in an enriched environment and having an intellectually stimulating conversation with a supportive friend, making sure to steer clear of any stress-inducing subjects, while eating a nice meal of salmon and green vegetables sautéed lightly in olive oil. Then jog for 45 minutes and get a full night of restful sleep.
MAINTAINING MUSCLE MASS
We all lose muscle mass and strength as we age. It’s called sarcopenia. And many might think there’s nothing that can be done.
Well, not exactly. As we age, we lose muscle mass and strength if and when we stop exercising. If we keep exercising our muscles they stay strong, even as we age. At least that’s the message delivered by a new study out of The University of Birmingham and Kings College London.
This team of researchers studied a group of “highly active” amateur cyclists (age 55 to 79). These cyclists could ride about 60 miles in six hours. Good, but not crazy good. They were chosen because they represented a model of healthy, active agers who were free from any negative effects of sedentary behavior.
The cyclists experienced no loss of muscle mass and strength. Nor did they increase their body fat or cholesterol levels. And, the men's testosterone levels remained high, suggesting that they may be avoiding certain aspects of andropause.
There’s more! The cyclist’s immune systems showed no signs of aging. Their thymuses, which produce immune cells, were pumping out as many T cells as a young person.
As professor Janet Lord, Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, put it, “our findings debunk the assumption that ageing automatically makes us more frail.”
 Hmmmm? I wonder if infusion of old blood into young mice enhances their wisdom and judgment. They probably didn’t test for that.
 I wonder: Why aren’t they testing the effect of infusing old blood into teenage boys? The procedure might prove beneficial for teenage girls.