Is there a cure in sight for Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, is a neurological disorder that involves the destruction of brain cells. It gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities.
ALZHEIMER’S IN THE US: A SNAPSHOT
- According to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association, around 5.8 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the US.
- Experts predict the numbers could rise to 14 million by 2050 as the older population increases.
- Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the US.
- Every 65 seconds, someone in the US develops the disease.
- 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
WHAT SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS SIGNAL A NEED FOR TREATMENT?
Common signs that may develop during the mild stage of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Minor memory loss – forgetting what has been just said, repeating questions.
- Mood swings including bouts of depression and anxiety.
- Poor judgment leading to bad decisions.
- Wandering and getting lost.
Later, memory loss worsens, and patients may find it difficult to recognize family or think logically.
Symptoms of moderate Alzheimer’s include:
- Cognitive impairment.
- Agitation, restlessness, and anxiety.
- Delusions, compulsions, or repetitive behavior.
People with severe Alzheimer’s begin to lose physical coordination and are completely dependent on others for their care. Their symptoms include:
- Inability to communicate.
- Difficulty in identifying relatives and friends.
- Loss of bodily function control (e.g. swallowing, bladder, bowel).
If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone you know, schedule an appointment with us at Manhattan Medical Arts. We are a team of board-certified primary care physicians and specialists that provide comprehensive medical care to all our patients.
CAUSES OF ALZHEIMER’S DEMENTIA
Researchers are not sure what causes cell death and tissue loss in the Alzheimer’s brain, but autopsy studies show that those with Alzheimer’s have plaques and tangles in their brains.
The plaques build up between nerve cells and are made up of a protein called beta-amyloid. The tangles are made up of another protein called tau. Scientists believe that plaques and tangles disable communication among nerve cells and disrupt the process which cells need to survive.
The destruction of nerve cells causes memory failure and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Non-modifiable risk factors include; age, family history, and genetics.
The older a person is, the greater are his or her chances of developing the disease. At least one in 20 adults aged 65 and older suffers from this disease.
Family history and Genetics
Family history is not necessary for a person to develop the disease but those who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease as compared to those with no family history.
A risk gene called apolipoprotein E (APOE) is associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s. APOE, e2 tends to reduce the risk of the disease. The presence of one or two copies of APOE, e4 gene strongly influences Alzheimer’s risk.
Modifiable risk factors include: cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes and smoking
High cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Research shows that the same risk factors connected with cardiovascular diseases may also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
High blood pressure increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and researchers at Johns Hopkins found out that taking blood pressure medication reduces the risk of developing the disease by nearly 75%.
Studies suggest that people with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.
Smoking causes cerebrovascular diseases and therefore smokers are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
WILL ANY TREATMENTS REVERSE ALZHEIMER’S?
At present, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there are some medications and interventions that may reduce the symptoms and improve the quality of life, making it easier for people to live with the disease.
Medical treatment and interventions include medications, treatment of active medical problems, regular vision, and hearing assessments, and in-home nursing care.
Non-medical treatments might include behavioral approaches to problem behaviors, occupational and physical therapy, exercise and support groups.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some drugs for symptomatic relief of Alzheimer’s like rivastigmine, galantamine, donepezil, and memantine. These medications may help slow down the decline of cognitive abilities.
Reminiscence activities like going through an old photo album with an Alzheimer’s patient might help him/her recall past events in their life.
CAN EXERCISE PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S?
According to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, exercising regularly can reduce the risk of developing the disease by 50%. Exercise will help improve the brain’s functioning and strengthen the immune system. Possible benefits include improved sleep and a decrease in impulsive behavior.
ROLES OF FAMILY OR CARETAKER IN TREATMENT
As a person with Alzheimer’s disease loses the ability to provide for themselves, family or other caretakers play a crucial role in the optimal care of the patient. They can assist with much of the day-to-day care like helping the patient get dressed, eat, move and take medicines on time. If something is not working right, the prescribing physician can be informed.
NEW RESEARCH IN TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
Posiphen hinders the production of amyloid precursor protein and may be successful in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The drug is still in research.
AADvac1 stimulates the immune system to attack an abnormal form of tau responsible for disrupting the structure of neurons.
Pimavanserin used to treat hallucinations in people with Parkinson’s disease, is currently being researched for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
MIT neurologists have found out that exposing mice to a unique light and sound reduced amyloid plaques found in the visual cortex of their brains. Furthermore, the gamma oscillations also reduced the tau protein which forms tangles in the brain. The scientists have started phase 1 clinical trials in patients to study its possible effects on the disease. While we wait for better treatments or even a cure, the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease has increased greatly as available options are giving the sufferers hope and insight.