Alzheimer’s – An Epidemic with Hope (Part 2)

Posted on 05/29/2014 by | AARP Mississippi | Comments

New research in Alzheimer's is promising.(This story is by Margie Culbertson, an AARP Mississippi volunteer and freelance writer. Her photo is on the left.)

Last month, this column begin a discussion on the importance of early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. We continue this month discussing current research.

Alzheimer’s research has exponentially increased. In 1990, about 1,000 papers were published on Alzheimer’s. By 2012, more than 20,000 Alzheimer’s research papers were published. And the work continues. Researchers across all continents are turning Alzheimer’s disease end to end like a Rubik’s Cube, looking for answers.

 “Alzheimer’s is the new cancer” is a phrase I recently heard. In 1971, a bill was passed, and the “War on Cancer” was declared. Perhaps as a result of this, cancer deaths have dropped by 11% in men and 6% in women since 1971. Wouldn’t it be great to see similar results for Alzheimer’s?

In 2005, The Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) formed a collaboration with more than 50 major medical institutions, universities, and non-profit organizations, in addition to more than 20 pharmaceutical companies.

By 2012, the ADNI program was pleased with its many accomplishments:

1.)      Standardized the methods used for data across all research studies;

2.)      Clarified the patterns and rates of change for data across all research;

3.)      Included alternative methods in diagnostic research;

4.)      Concentrated on the early detection of Alzheimer’s using multiple methods;

5.)      Identified more carefully subjects for research;

6.)      Identified the genes known to effect Alzheimer’s and heritability;

7.)      Established worldwide communication through programs in Europe, Asia, and Australia;

8.)      Studied normal aging in relation to Alzheimer’s to find disease-modifying drugs.

9.)      Made all published and current research findings accessible for use across the world.

By this Spring, ADNI was being praised by the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services because several additional major goals have been accomplished, including:

1.)      Identification of 11 Alzheimer’s risk genes.

2.)      Dementia training and support to more than 23,000 health care workers.

3.)      14% reduction of the inappropriate use of antipsychotics among long-term Alzheimer’s patients.

4.)      State funding to create long-term dementia assistance and support systems.

Some research is investigating a possible link between Alzheimer’s and the use of Vitamin E. Others have been studying the value of a common antidepressant and Alzheimer’s. Other researchers are researching glucose and Alzheimer’s. A new type of Diabetes, coined “Type 3 Diabetes”, is being studied in the belief that insulin resistance may be linked to Alzheimer’s.

Harvard has been researching a protein, nicknamed “REST”. This protein works to protect aging and malfunctioning of the brain. Understanding it could lead to modifications or a complete overhaul of our current treatments for Alzheimer’s.

Unfortunately, there is not one great new prevention, management, or cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. This short column, if it tried to describe all the strains of research that are being done, would fill the pages of a book. But, rest assured, researchers are succeeding. In small steps, and with unrelenting effort, their work gives us hope.

(NOTE: This is the second in a series dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. Next month we will cover Living with Alzheimer’s and Treatment. Finally, the last article on Alzheimer’s will be on Advocacy. Then, subsequent columns will focus on different types of Dementia other than Alzheimer’s (some even reversible.) We’ll speculate with the researchers about whether we can prevent or delay Dementia. Then we’ll debunk the many accepted “facts” which are actually myths about our aging brains! To contact Margie or gain access to her earlier columns, email her at humorandlife@gmail.com)