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An exciting time for developments in Alzheimer's research

An exciting time for developments in Alzheimer's research
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It’s an exciting time for Alzheimer’s disease research, with new studies, treatments and answers on the horizon. Here’s what scientists are doing to possibly prevent and reverse the debilitating disease.

The rush for Alzheimer’s research

The rush for Alzheimer’s research
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In 2020, there are an estimated 459, 000 Australians living with dementia, with 250 new cases diagnosed every day, according to Dementia Australia. Fortunately, funding for Alzheimer’s research is finally catching up to the devastating reality of the disease. In Australia, for instance, the Federal government has allocated $5.3 million for dementia innovation and the investment is already leading to breakthroughs.

“Dementia Australia has been spearheading technological innovation across dementia care, especially in the area of virtual reality and immersive educational experiences,” says Dementia CEO Maree McCabe.

First disease-modifying drugs

First disease-modifying drugs
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After initially negative results, research now suggests that a recently developed drug called aducanumab may be effective in slowing cognitive decline in some patients. Aducanumab is an antibody that targets beta amyloid. The findings have been submitted to the FDA for approval. If it’s approved, aducanumab would be the first drug that impacts the underlying disease process of the condition as opposed to just symptoms.

“I’m so encouraged by the findings,” adds Professor of geriatrics and dementia, Dr Sterling Johnson. “It’s not just one thing that was significantly different. It was several cognitive measures and measures of clinical progression.”

This is what neurologists do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

 

A medication for psychotic symptoms

A medication for psychotic symptoms
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Physicians have been relying on the same set of medications to treat Alzheimer’s for almost 20 years and those drugs, including Aricept and Mamenda, target only cognitive symptoms like memory and reasoning. Psychotic symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients are currently treated with drugs ‘borrowed’ from other disorders like schizophrenia, some of which can be dangerous. “Now a drug called Pimavanserin, already approved for Parkinson’s, is set to become the first antipsychotic medication approved specifically for people with Alzheimer’s,” says Dr Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Continued research on inhaled insulin

Continued research on inhaled insulin
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A small study early in 2019 showed that people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s, had improved cognition after taking inhaled insulin. Many more studies with similar results will need to be completed before this becomes an approved therapy. Although the exact role of insulin in Alzheimer’s is unclear, people with diabetes do have a higher risk of the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

For more information about insulin, here’s all you need to know.

New biomarkers to diagnose Alzheimer’s

New biomarkers to diagnose Alzheimer’s
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There is currently no easy way to diagnose Alzheimer’s, but advances this year indicate that a simple blood test to detect the disease before symptoms appear may be on the horizon. A study published in the journal Neurology reported that a blood test could accurately detect levels of amyloid-beta protein in the blood of people who had no Alzheimer’s symptoms. This protein collects in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. “(The tests) are not as perfect as we want them to be, but they are proof of concept and now it’s a matter of refining the technique and getting one that we can deploy in the clinic,” says Dr Johnson. He anticipates seeing such tests hit clinics in the next few years.

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More evidence for lifestyle benefits

More evidence for lifestyle benefits
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About 35 per cent of dementia cases worldwide are preventable through modifiable lifestyle factors, says Dr Fargo. And the research keeps coming. Among the most startling new discoveries is the discovery that adopting five specific strategies can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 60 per cent. The five: eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, use your mind and don’t exceed one glass of wine a day. Another study found that a balanced lifestyle may even protect people who have a higher genetic risk for the disease. “We know now with the studies that continue to come forward that engaging in a healthy lifestyle is good for the brain,” says Dr Johnson.

Always find an excuse not to exercise? Here’s how to overcome your excuses.

Updated blood pressure targets

Updated blood pressure targets
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A study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January found that aggressively lowering blood pressure levels to below 120 mm reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment by about 20 per cent. Unfortunately, the study didn’t find any effect on dementia, but the researchers noted the study may not have been big enough to detect an effect.

Here are some easy ways to keep blood pressure in check.

Investigating the role of herpes

Investigating the role of herpes
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The once-fringe idea that certain bacteria, viruses and other microbes, including herpes simplex virus (HSV), may contribute to Alzheimer’s has moved into clinical trials, says Dr Fargo. A large trial is currently underway to see if the anti-viral drug Valtrex (valacyclovir) can help alleviate symptoms in women with mild Alzheimer’s who have tested positive for HSV-1 or HSV-2. Don’t worry if you have herpes – most people do. “It’s not a straight line from having herpes to Alzheimer’s,” reassures Dr Fargo.

More genetic clues

More genetic clues
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Research presented at the 2019 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference identified 11 sex-specific genes linked with Alzheimer’s. This may help explain why about 54 per cent of Alzheimer’s patients in Australia are women.

Find out which common illnesses have been linked to Alzheimer’s.

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Please be advised that due to the current lockdown in the Philippines, Reader’s Digest magazine May issue will not be available at its regular on-sale date to our subscribers or through our retail channels in that region. We hope to have the issues available in early June, but this is dependent on when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. We sincerely apologise for this inconvenience. Thank you and stay safe!
– The Reader’s Digest team