Leaky blood vessels, stress, a lack of sleep, and nine different genetic risk factors could all contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Type 2 Diabetes, lung disease, and loneliness, may contribute to cognitive decline and dementia, (Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia). Scientists are working tirelessly to discover the causes and most effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association calls it a “worldwide quest” to find “new treatments to stop, slow or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Because new drugs take years to produce from concept to market — and because drugs that seem promising in early-stage studies may not work as hoped in large-scale trials — it is critical that Alzheimer’s and other dementia research continues to accelerate.”
As a result, there is a constant stream of new findings and discoveries in the search for the causes of, and cures for, the disease. Here are some of the most recent research findings.
Research into medications that may be able to treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease proceeds at a rapid rate. Many of the drugs target Beta-amyloid, the main element of plaques that develop in the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s disease. . According to the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers are developing medications aimed at almost every point in the amyloid processing pathway, aimed at preventing the beta-amyloid fragments from clumping into plaques, and using antibodies against beta-amyloid to clear it from the brain.
There aren’t many ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease early. Current methods include MRIs, CT scans, and tapping cerebrospinal fluid, which is expensive and invasive. Now, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have developed a blood test that detects elevated levels of a toxic protein (tau), thought to play a central role in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers say it should be “aggressively pursued as a potential blood-based screening test” for the disease. They say it could be a test that is accurate and cost-effective.
It’s important to note that drugs that would effectively target beta-amyloid and tau are said to “dominate the landscape” for phase III clinical trials for Alzheimer’s treatments. In fact, 52 percent of trials are testing drugs that interact with the two proteins.
In addition to finding ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease earlier, scientists want to find ways to target the aging process that may contribute to it. They want to find ways to help seniors maintain healthy brains, reduce the incidence of chronic disease, and develop therapies that contribute to healthy aging. This approach is called combination therapy because it addresses a combination of factors that can contribute to the disease including:
- Chronic inflammation at the cellular level that can cause poor blood flow to the brain
- Issues in the vascular system that can cause poor blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain
- Dysfunction in the metabolism, which can damage cells in the brain
The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease published a study that underscores the impact of midlife factors on the future development of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers in Denmark found that “vital exhaustion” suffered in midlife increased the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in later years. Vital exhaustion is defined as “feelings of unusual fatigue, increased irritability and demoralization”. It can occur in response to “unsolvable problems in individuals’ lives”, particularly when the individual cannot adapt to prolonged stress. Researchers found that each additional symptom of vital exhaustion caused the risk of dementia to rise by two percent:
- Participants with five to nine symptoms had a 25 percent higher risk
- Those reporting 10 to 17 symptoms had a 40 percent higher risk
Researchers says this shows the importance of paying attention to psychological health as well as physical health in preventing the disease.
These studies show that while Alzheimer’s disease continues to ravage millions of Americans, scientists around the world are hot on its tail. They are not going to stop their tireless pursuit of a cure and they have no intentions of letting the disease win. For victims of the disease and their loved ones, the answers can’t come soon enough. In the meantime, living a lifestyle that supports a healthy brain and contributes to a healthy aging process is the best strategy. It is one that hopefully arms the body with the tools necessary to fight dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.