Alzheimer’s Disease [AD] has an insidiously disproportionate effect on senior citizens and their families. Surveys conducted over the past several years show that a diagnosis of AD sparks terror in the hearts of patients, families and friends, more so than just about any other fatal or chronic illness, according to the Association of Mature American Citizens.
In fact, a Marist Poll conducted in 2012 concluded that Alzheimer’s was America’s most feared illness. And, says AMAC, it still is.
The association’s president, Dan Weber, says that for patients, perhaps it is “the idea of losing their identity and the notion that they will almost certainly lose the ability to recall the most important moments of their lives. For family and friends, it can cause confusion and disbelief that loved ones are slowly, but surely, forgetting who they are. And, for all those whose lives are touched by this seemingly hopeless affliction, the slow progress in developing treatments, let alone a cure, exacerbates their frustration.”
So pervasive is Alzheimer’s Disease that it has created a new class of scammers who target the desperation, particularly among seniors, with “snake oil” concoctions that claim to “cure” the disease and even “reverse” it. It’s gotten so bad that the FDA recently took on the fraudsters who peddle unapproved and misbranded drugs that claim to prevent, treat or cure Alzheimer’s.
Weber notes that it is older Americans who express the most concern about AD since it afflicts mainly senior citizens, more than 5.7 million of them to date, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
But the news about AD is not all that discouraging says, Weber. “Credible reports of progress in the quest for treatments and, ultimately, cures are coming with greater frequency these days. And, they provide hope that in the not too distant future the medical community will have more ways to deal with the disease.”
For example, it’s long been known that patients with Alzheimer’s have significantly reduced blood flow to the brain. It causes them to feel dizzy and there’s clear evidence that it impacts cognitive function, according to Cornell University professor of biomedical engineering Chris Schaffer. He says that white blood cells get stuck inside capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in the brain and cause the reduced blood flow.
“We’ve shown that when we block the cellular mechanism [that causes the stalls], we get an improved blood flow, and associated with that improved blood flow is immediate restoration of cognitive performance of spatial- and working-memory tasks,” Schaffer explains.
Meanwhile, at Brown University, professor of medical science, John Sedivy, has been experimenting with mice, using a generic HIV/AIDS medication, and he says it “holds promise for treating age-associated disorders including Alzheimer’s.”
And, Penn State researchers reported recently that they may have discovered a way to turn damaged neurons in the brain into new, functioning neurons using “a simple drug cocktail.” The research team leader, Professor Gong Chen, reports in Science Daily that the biggest problem for brain repair is that neurons don’t regenerate after brain damage, because they don’t divide. In contrast, glial cells, which gather around damaged brain tissue, can proliferate after brain injury.
Chen says he believes that turning glial cells that are the neighbors of dead neurons into new neurons “is the best way to restore lost neuronal functions.” He says after experimenting with numerous combinations of drugs, he and his researchers have found one that appears to work. “My ultimate dream is to develop a simple drug delivery system, like a pill, that can help stroke and Alzheimer’s patients around the world to regenerate new neurons and restore their lost learning and memory capabilities.”
AMAC’s Weber describes recent progress in researching treatments and cures for AD as slow, but promising. “But, as the Alzheimer’s Association suggests, we need to emphasize the urgency of the quest for new medical modalities and accelerate the research.”