Protecting Our Mind: Where We Stand Against Our Fight With Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a common type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior which will eventually grow severe enough to begin interfering with day-to-day tasks.
According to https://www.alz.org/ there is an estimated 6.7 million Americans aged 65 or older that currently live with Alzheimer’s dementia, this number is expected to reach 14 million by 2060. The number of people who are caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s is estimated to be more than 11 million.
Even though Alzheimer’s research is at the forefront of biomedical study, the brain and mind are complex, and treating Alzheimer’s has taken time and currently the treatments provided only temporarily improve symptoms and change progression speeds but there is no inherent cure yet.
Current FDA-approved drugs include:
- Drugs that help change the progression of the disease: Aducanumab (Aduhelm™), Lecanemab (Leqembi™)
- Drugs that help treat cognitive behavior: Cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept®, Exelon®, Razadyne®), Glutamate regulators (Namenda®), Cholinesterase inhibitor + glutamate regulator (Namzeric®)
- Drugs that help treat non-cognitive behavior: Orexin receptor antagonist (Belsomra®)
There are also alternative treatments for individuals who prefer not to take traditional medication. While there is some research done about these alternatives, they are not FDA-approved and their effectiveness, safety, and purity are unknown.
Alternative treatments can include:
- Medical cannabis and CBD
- Light therapy
- “Medical Foods”: Caprylic Acid, Coconut Oil, Tramiprosate
While not entirely preventable, research has connected certain lifestyle choices that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. The CDC has released a few lifestyle changes that can help aid with the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
These suggested changes include:
- Managing and preventing high blood pressure
- Managing blood sugar
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding excessive drinking and recreational drug use
- Preventing and correcting hearing loss
- Cognitive training: Structured activities that are specifically designed to enhance memory, reasoning, and processing speed
- Getting regular health evaluations
- Staying socially active: Volunteering in your local community, Taking part in group sports, Trying new activities or hobbies, Creating time to maintain healthy relationships
- Staying mentally active: Reading, Learning a new language, Playing musical instruments
- Try to prevent head trauma: Wearing a seatbelt, Using helmets when riding motorcycles, bikes, playing sports, doing construction, etc., Fall-proofing your home
As of January 1, 2023, there were 187 trials that were assessing 141 new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease all within different phases of the clinical trial process. These trials are testing more treatments that can help with symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Phase 3 has 36 agents and 55 trials, Phase 2 has 87 agents and 99 trials, and Phase 1 has 31 agents and 33 trials.
As research progresses, we are currently seeing an increased focus on several different strategies to help fight Alzheimer’s. The first strategy targets clumps of protein beta-amyloid aka the plaque which is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. This strategy includes recruiting the immune system, preventing destruction, and providing production blockers. Other strategies focus on:
- Tau untangling – tau is a protein that is found in the brain and when Alzheimer’s is present, they twist into tiny fibers called tangles.
- Reducing inflammation – Alzheimer’s commonly causes chronic, low-level brain cell inflammation leading researchers to study ways to treat/prevent this protecting the brain from harmful proteins.
- Insulin resistance – though no findings have been announced, researchers have been looking into how insulin changes the brain in relation to Alzheimer’s.
- The heart-head connection – evidence points to brain health being linked to heart and blood vessel health, developing dementia can possibly increase the result of conditions that damage the heart or arteries.
Sometimes the fight against Alzheimer’s can feel endless but with dedicated research and studies, we are seeing progression in a variety of areas to at least help manage this disease. Individuals who educate themselves, understand their risks, and make the suggested lifestyle changes can find themselves less likely to develop this life-altering disease.