In this post, we round off our series intending to raise awareness and challenge the stigma surrounding this mental illness. In this week’s post, we summarise the facts you should know when it comes to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The current state of affairs
In the late 1970s, researchers discovered a chemical that helped strengthen memory function. This class of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors and is still being used by Alzheimer’s patients today.
Over the years, clinical research has revolutionized many parts of our lives. Newer technologies have helped doctors discover many treatments that have saved many lives. But why have we still not solved Alzheimer’s?
It’s not from a lack of trying
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most studied diseases nowadays. It also happens to be one of the most common conditions worldwide.
Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered it in 1906, a woman who died from an unusual mental illness. Symptoms include memory loss and impaired cognitive functions, caused by a loss of connections between nerve cells in the brain.
So what have we learned since the discovery of Alzheimer’s and in the past ten years? Here are some of the latest innovations from clinical research today.
1. There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s
The leading cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown, yet there are some theories as to its treatment.
There is no existing standard treatment guideline for Alzheimer’s disease. Medications which are available now in the market for the treatment are used only to relieve symptoms, and not treat the cause.
2. It’s a growing problem
As the worldwide population is continually aging, and life expectancy is increasing, Alzheimer’s is becoming more commonplace.
At present, 35.6 million people have Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is estimated that the number of people with dementia will double in the next ten years. This will most likely hurt developed countries with higher life expectancies worse.
3. The treatment challenge lies in the blood-brain
The main challenge in finding an effective cure lies in cracking the code of the blood-brain barrier. What this means is finding a way to get through a semi-permeable membrane that separates blood and fluids in the brain from the other parts of the central nervous system.
This mechanism needs to be fully understood in order to create new treatments for dementia.
4. Trials using nanotechnology are showing promising results
Using this method, we overcome the challenge described above. However, this technology is in the very early stages of still being developed and are not ready for clinical trials on humans.
5. ..and so is immunotherapy
Though not as effective as nanotechnology, the use of antibody and immunotherapy is showing promise in treating Alzheimer’s. This treatment removes toxins from the patients’ brain.
A recent study uses a human antibody that targets specific proteins. In one clinical trial, patients with mild Alzheimer’s received monthly infusions for a year. This treatment reversed 20 years worth of nerve inhibitor plaques in a single year!
Hedging our bets
There are many ongoing clinical trials. You can find them in databases such as this. There is also research being completed using advanced sensors and medical devices for diagnosis and supportive treatment. There are even trials on dietary supplements with patient’s that have been diagnosed.
We have yet to land on a leading strategy, but thankfully scientists around the World are hard at work!
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This is the fourth post in a series of posts on the topic of Alzheimer’s. Links to the past posts below:
- 6 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s
- 9 ways to take care of your brain as you age
- What my Grandma’s Alzheimer’s taught me