Alzheimer’s: Is there a Helpful Drug on the Horizon?
Alzheimer’s disease is a serious disability that can dramatically impact a physician or dentist’s ability to practice. In this post, we will be looking at some of the risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s, some of the signs that may indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s, and some of the proposed methods of treating Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. There are three primary risk factors for Alzheimer’s:
- Age: Most people that have Alzheimer’s are 65 or older, and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after age 65.
- Heredity: Scientists have identified certain “risk” genes that can contribute to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Amyloid precursor protein (APP), presenilin-1 (PS-1), and presenilin-2 (PS-2) are proteins that directly cause Alzheimer’s, although “deterministic” Alzheimer’s occurs in only 5% of cases. APOE-e4 is another gene that scientists believe may be a factor in 20 to 25% of cases, although they are not sure precisely how it increases the risk.
- Family History: People who have parents, siblings, or even children with the disease are more likely to have Alzheimer’s. The risk also increases as more family members develop the disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 warning signs that may indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s:
- Memory loss that disrupts your daily life, such as forgetting recently learned information or appointments.
- Difficulty solving problems or planning.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks, such as driving to a favorite location or using a microwave.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Vision problems such as difficulty understanding images, trouble with spatial relationships, and/or the development of cataracts.
- Problems with words in speaking or writing, such as forgetting the name of an object.
- Misplacing things and then being unable to retrace your steps to find them.
- Poor judgement.
- Avoiding work and/or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality, such as becoming irritated when a routine is disrupted.
Is there hope?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, and currently there is no known cure. However, scientists have recently discovered a drug that may slow its progression. A recent study used a drug called solanezumab to target and remove amyloid proteins that accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. During the two year study, researchers observed a decline in the progression of the disease, but only in instances where the patient’s Alzheimer’s was mild and treated early. While this new treatment option does not appear to be an absolute cure for the disease, identifying the link between amyloid proteins and Alzheimer’s may be a significant step towards finding such a cure.
Other studies have focused on how to decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Recently, scientists have identified a link between Alzheimer’s and heart disease. According to the study, certain known risk factors for heart disease, such as alcohol use, smoking, and obesity, can also contribute to brain shrinking, which in turn can increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. While these links have not yet been conclusively proven, the study suggests that a person’s lifestyle may be an additional risk factor in the onset of Alzheimer’s. If so, avoiding alcohol, smoking, and obesity may be a promising method of decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, since—unlike the other primary risk factors—such lifestyle choices are generally within a person’s control.
While it can be disconcerting to contemplate the onset of Alzheimer’s, it is important to be aware of the risk factors and warning signs because many Alzheimer’s treatments are more effective if they are initiated at the early stages of the disease. If you are concerned that you may be suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, be sure to consult with your physician so that he or she can assess the situation and recommend appropriate treatment.