New Discoveries on Alzheimer's

October 4, 2022

Treatments and Preventative Measures for the Disease 

Alzheimer’s is a progressive and irreversible neurodegenerative disease affecting thought, memory, and language. It afflicts approximately ​​5.8 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Women in their 60s are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to men the same age. Two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. The condition can cause confusion, memory loss, and frustration. Over time, it can affect a person’s ability to carry out conversations and day-to-day tasks.

This disease is emotionally disruptive to the person experiencing it and to the family members and loved ones involved. That means it can be beneficial to seek support early on because the life-changing and challenging nature of this diagnosis by its very nature only gets worse over time, hence the term “degenerative”. Support can come in the form of augmented caregivers or daycare options for the Alzheimer's patient as well as invaluable support groups for family members, especially those serving in caregiver roles.

Early Warning Signs and Diagnosis 

The United Nations recently declared that we have entered into the ‘Decade of Healthy Aging.’ At the forefront of their efforts and concerns are Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias (ADRDs), which place a financial and emotional burden on families significant enough that the UN made a note of the impact in their study. 

Our brains change with age, but Alzheimer’s and its associated symptoms are not a normal part of aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control, routine memory, skills, and knowledge should remain relatively stable as we age, so any significant changes in brain function may be warning signs of Alzheimer’s. 

Here are the top 10 Warning Signs and Symptoms: 

  1. Significant memory loss
  2. Challenges planning or problem-solving 
  3. Difficulty completing daily activities and tasks
  4. Confusion with time or place 
  5. Changes in coordination and spatial awareness
  6. Challenges communicating, either written or verbally 
  7. Frequently misplacing things and trouble retracing steps 
  8. Decrease in judgment or poor decision making
  9. Withdrawal from social activities 
  10. Substantial changes in mood or personality

Latest Discoveries and Breakthroughs

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, researchers and scientists continue to discover new insights into the Disease, including treatments and preventive measures that can help to slow down its progression.

This year, leading scientists and researchers made a breakthrough discovery that suggests “Alzheimer’s Might Not Actually Be a Brain Disease”, and that a key study, which is responsible for our scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s today, may not have been based on valid data. This revelation is prompting scientists to reexamine the fundamentals of the disease and its potential causes. There is significant controversy about all of this information and whether previous conclusions focusing on amyloid plaques in the brain are more or less valid than they were previously. As of right now this is still a heated topic and has not been resolved. 

New studies suggest that Alzheimer’s may be the result of an auto-immune response triggered in the brain, rather than a subtype of brain protein called beta-amyloid, as previously thought. New research suggests that this inflammatory immune response of the brain can be triggered by a number of factors including:

  • Brain trauma 
  • Excess stress
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Excess levels of heavy metals in the brain

While research is still developing, the gut-brain connection may have a significant role to play when it comes to brain health. If you’re interested in learning more about the gut-brain axis and how food contributes to brain health, I recently connected with a colleague of mine to discuss Mindful Eating: It Can Be Key to Boosting Your Mood! Clearly this important connection has broad-reaching ramifications. Its connection to Alzheimer’s is still in the early stages of research. 

Developing research also suggests that heavily processed foods, as well as environmental toxins, may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. One proponent of impaired brain cognition may be caused by an excess of heavy metals in the brain such as aluminum, mercury, copper, and iron. While these metals are occurring, studies show that an excess of these heavy metals may contribute to cognitive decline. With that said, mindfulness and nutritional eating may support proper brain cognition as we age and lessen the likelihood of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Treatment and Preventive Measures 

According to the World Economic Forum, lifestyle choices and levels of social and physical activity could also play a vital role in warding off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Researchers are studying the potential brain games may have in staving off the progression of dementia or even preventing it.  

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, scientists are developing therapeutics and drugs aimed at easing or treating symptoms of Alzheimer’s. According to the NIH, “Aducanumab is the only disease-modifying medication currently approved to treat Alzheimer’s.” Insurance companies do not necessarily pay for this medication at this time, citing a lack of conclusive evidence that it works. The medication is purported to help to reduce amyloid plaques or brain lesions that are most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Coping and Support:  

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can often be life-changing for the person receiving the diagnosis and that individual’s family members. Since Alzheimer’s affects day-to-day life, especially as the disease progresses, a supportive network of friends, family and professionals can be vital to the mental, emotional, and physical health of those involved.

According to Verywell Mind, there are a few ways you can manage the stress, grief, and confusion that come with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis:

  • Seek professional support and/or counseling 
  • Plan for the future
  • Manage expectations and seek different perspectives
  • Find ways to manage symptoms (i.e., treatment, counseling, lifestyle changes)
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle and stay active
  • Seek support from loved ones and support groups
  • Maintain regular check-ups with your healthcare provider

While an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be life-changing, you don’t have to face these challenges alone! In the coming weeks, I will be following up with more information on how an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can impact families, as well as how you can seek support. In the meantime, stay well!


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