The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple by 2050, but there’s hope on the horizon with exciting new treatments, answers, and studies that may help prevent and reverse the disease. Reader’s Digest explores these developments in their article, “Alzheimer’s Research: 7 Breakthroughs to Give Hope for the Future” as they share how medical experts hope to combat the alarming statistics associated with Alzheimer’s disease by exploring the potential of a variety of breakthroughs.
Scientists are looking deeper into how lifestyle changes may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. A Finnish study in 2014 revealed that “people who exercised, changed their diet, socialized, and did memory training performed significantly better on memory tests two years later than those who did not.” Although those results do not prove that lifestyle changes prevent Alzheimer’s, they do indicate that mental and physical activities can help protect the brain.
Earlier detection of beta-amyloid
The protein that clumps and builds plaque in the brain, called beta-amyloid, can block communication between brain cells thus activating the immune system and triggering inflammation. By finding beta-amyloid earlier in patients and treating it with medication, scientists hope to combat the development or progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar and irregularities in it may contribute to the brain alterations associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Scientific studies currently focused on delivering insulin to the brain without interfering with blood sugar levels in the body show potential for improving the retaining and processing of information in the brain.
Drugs currently used as a treatment for other conditions have the potential to aid with Alzheimer’s disease, as discovered in a Yale University School of Medicine study. The research discovered that a cancer drug used on mice revered brain problems and restored memory loss. There are currently studies testing for similar effectiveness on humans with results expected within two years.
Tau tangle knowledge
When a protein in the brain called tau twists into microscopic fibers, called tau tangles, the brain’s transport systems can’t stay straight and eventually disintegrate. Tau tangles exist in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and a 2015 Mayo Clinic study found that “the progression of dysfunctional tau protein is a major driver in memory loss and cognitive decline.” Harvard scientists currently use PET scan imaging to track tau buildup in those with beta amyloid buildups that increase the risk of memory loss and plan on giving patients anti-amyloid treatments to help control tau.
Role of heart health
A study published in JAMA Neurology in 2014 examined artery stiffness and brain images of elderly adults without dementia and found after two years that 75 percent of the patients had plaque in their brain. Increased artery stiffness is linked to plaque development in the brain, and a Vanderbilt University Medical Center study showed that “those with decreased heart function were two to three times more likely to develop significant memory loss over a follow-up period of up to 11 years.”
One of the newer research trends focuses on the importance of early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. Some scientists believe that there may be a limited window of opportunity for identifying underlying biological changes and intervening to stop or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Learn more about the Alzheimer’s research breakthroughs by reading the Reader’s Digest article here.