Alzheimer’s Update: Reason for Hope?

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The statistics are sobering and scary – but is there reason for hope about Alzheimer’s?

Right now, more than six million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  By 2060, according to its projections, that number will more than double. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, the association estimates.

Current treatments can temporarily improve memory loss and other symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, they don’t stop the underlying decline and death of brain cells. The hope is to find a way to stop or delay the progression of the disease.

That’s why Alzheimer’s researchers keep on, despite the gloomy statistics and the failed treatment attempts. Now, some say, there is potential good news coming – both on the treatment front (to halt or manage the disease), and on the research lab front (to learn how the progressive brain disorder gets its start).

How Alzheimer’s Happens

What happens in the brain when Alzheimer’s occurs? Experts say Alzheimer’s disrupts communication between the brain’s neurons, the specialized cells that communicate information. The changes that occur with the disease may occur from an interplay of the buildup of brain’s tau proteins and beta-amyloid proteins, as well as other factors.

New Discoveries about Alzheimer’s  

New Alzheimer’s Treatments

Treatments:  Some new medications for Alzheimer’s disease are nearing the end of clinical trials, and could be FDA approved in coming months. One is lecanemab; in Phase III clinical trials, it slowed the rate of decline by 27% at the 18-month mark in those who took it compared to those given placebo.

“It didn’t stop the process,” says Ronald Petersen, MD, PhD, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, who is familiar with the study. He says it was a modest effect, but he views it as ‘’clinically meaningful,” or enough to make a difference in the everyday life of someone with the disease.

On its heels, experts predict, will be a similar drug from Roche, gantenerumab, which is also in Phase III clinical trials and was granted Breakthrough Designation by the FDA, designed to accelerate the development and review of medicines that look promising for serious or life-threatening diseases.

The therapies both work by reducing the beta-amyloid plaques. That is also the way a drug on the market, aducanumab (Aduhelm), works. But other experts question whether these anti-amyloid therapies are the answer.

Researching Alzheimer’s Origins

Researching Alzheimer’s Origins:  Recently, UK scientists have found blood vessel changes in the brain and they say the discovery may eventually provide a pathway for new drugs.

Led by Adam Greenstein, MD, PhD, a physician and researcher at the University of Manchester, the scientists found a smaller version of the amyloid-beta protein may build up in the walls of small arteries, reducing blood flow to the brain and, over time, leading to memory loss as the brain becomes starved for nutrients. In animal studies, the researchers found that the smaller version of the protein switched off another protein that gave the arteries the signal to widen. “We found the mechanism of how the blood vessels were damaged,” Greenstein says. The work is very early, but he hopes to eventually develop a drug treatment to prevent the narrowing.

While many experts are focused on the nerves in the brain, he suggests focusing on the problems in the blood vessels, as his research did, may provide important answers.

Preventing or Stalling Alzheimer’s  

There’s much people can do to help prevent or stall Alzheimer’s Disease.  Greenstein and other experts say what’s good for your heart is good for your brain. His advice: control blood pressure, don’t smoke, avoid alcohol and stay active. “Your brain is a muscle that needs to be used.”

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Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based independent journalist, specializing in health, behavior, fitness and lifestyle stories. Besides writing for Senior Planet, she reports for WebMD, Medscape, Endocrine Web, Practical Pain Management, Spine Universe and other sites.  She is a mom, mother-in-law and proud and happy Mimi who likes to hike, jog and shop.

Doheny photo: Shaun Newton

This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to 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.


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