Alzheimer’s Hope on the Horizon?

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Senior Planet offers an online talk Nov. 10 about the latest advancements in Alzheimer’s. More info is here.  

Is Alzheimer’s hope on the horizon? The statistics are sobering, and the projections are terrifying. Today, more than six million Americans have Alzheimer’s, the degenerative brain condition. By 2050, that number can more than double to 13 million, according to estimates by the Alzheimer’s Association.

However, there’s hope on the horizon. Researchers are working on multiple fronts to find a way to arrest, reverse, and eventually prevent the condition. .

Alzheimer’s Hope: the Next Big Thing

When Senior Planet asked experts in Alzheimer’s research what ”the next big thing” will be, they stressed that it won’t be a single treatment or approach.  Many treatments are under study.  An approach that works for one person may not work for another.

…it won’t be a single treatment or approach.

Both the experts we contacted and reports of Alzheimer’s advances each mention two approaches: targetting beta amyloid and targetting tau.

Targetting beta amyloid

Treatments that target abnormal levels of beta amyloid are under study. When this naturally occurring protein accumulates to abnormal levels in the brain and forms plaques, it disrupts brain functioning. “There are at least four monoclonal antibody therapies targeting beta amyloid that are in Phase Three (final) clinical trials or already approved,” says Cynthia Lemere, PhD, associate professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’ Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The four treatments are aducanamab (Aduhelm), approved earlier this year, plus three similar therapies still under study—lecanemab (Biogen/Eisai), donanemab (Eli Lilly) and gantenerumab (Roche/Genentech).  “All four have some effectiveness in slowing cognitive decline,” Lemere says.   Another expert, Rebecca Edelmayer, PhD, senior director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, says the different anti-amyloid drugs ”all target the amyloid differently.”  Experts are keeping a close eye on their progress as they work their way through clinical trials.

Targetting Tau

Another avenue being investigated: treatments that target tau. This is another protein that can increase to abnormal levels and then form tangles in the brain that disrupt communication between the nerve cells. ”A  number [of these drugs] are going to be finishing Phase Two (of the required three) trials in 2021,” Edelmayer says.

In the future, Edelmayer says, it’s possible that anti-tau therapies and anti-amyloid therapies could be combined to give a patient maximum benefit.  The abnormal amyloid accumulation is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s, she says, while the abnormalities in tau may show up later.

In the future, Lemere says, Alzheimer’s treatment will be based on precision medicine

In the future, Lemere says, Alzheimer’s treatment will be based on precision medicine—customized care tailored to specific patients, their symptoms, needs, and genetic information. That will mean different treatments for different patients, and probably combining treatments to get the best effects.

Other Approaches

Intensive lifestyle interventions—improving the diet,  adequate sleep, mental stimulation and managing conditions like high blood pressure—can help those with Alzheimer’s function better, says Lemere.  Researchers are also looking at how intense intervention might ward off cognitive issues in those at risk for getting dementia.

One example of a program to keep dementia patients mentally stimulated is Lincoln Center Moments, a free, performance-based program for those with dementia and their caregivers. The Fall 2021 season offers eight online, virtual programs from October–December sharing classical music, ballet, opera, jazz, and contemporary dance. Registration is required and more information is here.

Clinical Trials Offer Hope

Joining a clinical trial could help someone with Alzheimer’s, as well as advance science in general. Nearly 3,000 such trials are listed at the federal clinical trials website.

Remember, listing a study does not mean the U.S. Federal Government evaluated it.  Read the disclaimer for details. Before participating in a study, talk to your health care provider and learn about the risks and potential benefits.

And, of course, beware of clinical trial scams – read about them here.

Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services offer this content for informational purposes only.  It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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